My Turn: No Child Left Behind sets up schools, kids for failure

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2004

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is underfunded, overregulated, and time-intensive. Like communism, the act looks good on paper but fails in practice. Both will only work where scarcity is not an issue.

The federal government has received quite a bit of money to implement No Child Left Behind but fails to assign all of it. Last year, $5.4 billion of NCLB monies were not appropriated. Republican Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine said, "It leaves us open to the charge of unfunded mandates." Alaska received 28.5 percent more federal education funding of which not all of was appropriated on-time either.

Since No Child Left Behind is also a political party issue, some people will myopically support it without question or view any logical opposition as an attack on their political party. Some people also think it is a great step forward merely because it brings money into the starving educational system. If you really want to know the benefits and consequences of No Child Left Behind then ask somebody in the trenches; ask a teacher.

The No Child Left Behind Act supposedly had worked for Rod Paige when he was the superintendent in Houston, Texas. But Houston is a little different than an Alaskan community such as, oh let's say, Diomede. Believing that every district in Alaska will better itself by doing exactly what Houston did is as ridiculous as believing that every child will benefit from learning the same thing in the same way. Every child is unique just as every school district is unique.

Diversity and standardization are oxymoronic terms. It is outrageous to standardize success strategies throughout Alaska based on one urban Texas school district's success story. The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that all teachers are "highly qualified" in the subject of any class they teach. In rural communities a teacher will teach up to six different subjects a day. The "highly qualified" requirements undermine the experience a 20-year teacher has with assessment. More time will be spent regurgitating test knowledge instead of forming responsible members of a community.

The fact that a person can be a great teacher without being highly qualified makes the highly qualified status even less significant. After taking a content knowledge Praxis test, a teacher doesn't walk into the school with some kind of magical aura that makes her better than before. If teaching were really about creating critical thinkers and successful members in a community, then it wouldn't matter who's highly qualified and who isn't.

Had NCLB rules and scrutiny been in effect back in the 1980s, I probably would have failed and a couple of my teachers would have been issued a derogatory stigma for not being highly qualified. The fallacious logic that No Child Left Behind is trying to feed us here is that I probably would have become a better citizen if I were retained or if some of my teachers would have been publicly humiliated. Soon, with No Child Left Behind in place, we should expect to see more scenarios like this. Do you really believe that the children affected will grow up to become better citizens?

There is no standardized test that will uncover all of the relevant strengths and weaknesses of every individual student. There is no standardized test that will tell anybody what makes a good teacher. Being test-smart in a content area is quite different than managing a room of 25 seventh-graders for six hours. While the No Child Left Behind Act seems to be a step forward, I think that the undue stresses and financial burdens push teachers two steps back. Rod Paige did get it right when defending NCLB by saying, "When teachers fail, children fail." Ironically NCLB sets successful teachers and students up to fail.

• Michael Heiman is a teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School.

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