efore starting a conversation about the success of No Child Left Behind, let's consider the fundamental question of what our intentions are regarding the future of our public schools.
Are you willing to consider the possibility of abandoning our public schools? We have to go down that road only a few short paces, conceptualizing abandoned public schools as hellholes in which only the poor are in attendance, before responding with a resounding, "NO!" This is just not going to work out in a democracy.
We need educated people here! Not just our own kids, but the rest of them too. We can not accept a permanent underclass, educated in inferior schools. Not in a country where the government is supposedly in the hands of the people!
Education is a thing in motion. Change is expected, even welcomed. A new perspective is relished. However, the movement to privatize education in the United States is an ill-founded movement based on conceptualization of "our children" as yours and mine, but not the other guy's. The other guy is living in a garage with his 3 kids. The other guy is in jail while his ex tries to control their teenage, drug-addicted son. The other guy never went to second grade and doesn't read, but he too has children.
Maybe you don't want to rub elbows with the other guy. But you had better make sure that his children have a chance to succeed in life, or we can just forget that little concept in the back of our minds that we live in a superior land of equal opportunity.
So keeping it in mind that we see value in our public schools, we must feed those schools and keep them healthy! That brings us to NCLB (say "nicklebee").
NCLB is like a blank report card to schools, which enumerates what must happen in order to pass grade. Now if the standards are set unrealistically high, then everyone will fail. As you may know, that is exactly what is predicted regarding the NCLB program of Adequate Yearly Progress. All schools will fail to meet their NCLB AYP targets by the year 2014. One-third is already failing.
Well, that's going to be a pretty howdy-doo! Label all public schools failures and then vote vouchers into existence, enroll your children in privates and then sit around wondering what in the world has happened to our great country.
It can no longer be considered a rumor that right-wing forces are seeking the demise of public education and the institution of school vouchers. There is a movement and a counter movement going on. Check the web and you will see.
The movement is NCLB. The test-'em-until-they-drop mentality. The drive to make standards so high that they are unattainable for many, then label the slower learners as failures. Call the teacher to task for creativity and individuality. We want one size fits all. Use the same yardstick to measure children who don't speak English with those that do. Ignore individual differences in the ability to learn. Forget the high achiever and the low achiever.
The counter movement, resistance to NCLB, is growing strong. People know that we need greatness in our public schools. Great staff, great libraries, great textbooks, great lessons. If we have all of the elements of greatness in place and we have a great accountability system with which to measure them, then we can develop a slightly more relaxed attitude. The system will reveal the schools' greatness.
The question is, what kind of system should it be? While we suspect that NCLB and the associated testing system will result in the eventual failure of all schools, experts are speaking up about other yardsticks by which they judge the quality of a school.
Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has provided a veritable stadium full of criteria regarding the quality of a school. His list includes teacher credentials, safe and clean campuses, quality texts and materials, good communications, parent involvement, counseling and support systems, in addition to the testing program. Other experts agree, adding such criteria as school climate, the relationship between students and their teachers, and whether the student experiences any excitement about learning.
Recently it has been suggested that schools need to pay more attention to student health, nutrition and physical fitness. Thank you for suggesting another way to improve our public schools! But seriously, schools can and do direct their attention to a myriad of issues in addition to academics and test preparation. I believe we must. But we also must make our accountability system able to recognize the many fine ways in which our public schools are succeeding in our efforts to create a better tomorrow.
Sandra Nichols is past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2004