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Renewing No Child Left Behind?

by TODD ALAN PRICE

 

The horribly mis-named “No Child Left Behind” Act comes up for reauthorization sometime between the end of the year and early 2008. Thumbing their nose at the massive backlash that has developed among teachers, administrators, and the general public against the changes the law has brought to American education, Congresspersons of both parties are scrambling to make cosmetic changes in the law to deflect the opposition and keep the NCLB motors running. The first five years’ performance of the No Child Left Behind law expose the hollowness of hopes that the law’s goal of saving American education by punishing schools, students, and teachers can be made to work without degrading the content of instruction and without permanently sinking the concept of universal entitlement to a fair, equal, and publicly funded education.

For decades now, enemies of public education, on a crusade to privatize all schools, bust the teacher unions, strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights, and shift school governance to the private sector, have been sapping the people’s support for their community public schools by bashing teachers in the mainstream media.

Some of the loudest critics of public education, the Hoover Institution, the Fordham Institute, the Aspen Institute, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Fortune 500 corporations have partnered with the Federal Government in an effort to, what they claim, save our public schools, which is the corporate point of origination that the “No Child Left Behind” Act comes from.

Terms used by the federal government such as “no child left behind” “at-risk children,” “students-at-risk,” and “nation-at-risk” are scare rhetoric that vilifies teachers as perpetrators of an educational crisis that can only be fixed by holding schools, the teachers in them, and the students of these teachers to rigorous performance standards as measured by federally mandated testing for which the price of failure is outright dismantling of so-called underperforming individual schools and their replacement by privately run (non-union) institutions.

Conversion of our country’s severe employment crisis and systemic income and social inequality into a crisis of education scapegoats teachers for our deeper institutional and social failure. Sick, uninsured, and untreated children living in homes with low-paid and, increasingly, unemployed parents unable to feed them properly should be treated as victims of a dysfunctional economy rather than stigmatized as academic underachievers, and teachers of these children commended for their heroic efforts to educate them rather than denigrated for trying to teach in the face of these odds.

The guaranteed failure of America’s teachers to lift performance on tests of the nation’s poorest young people to universal passing levels by 2014, the purported goal of NCLB, serves only one clear purpose: to pin a label of outmoded and antiquated on the public school system that is sure not to reach these lofty goals and hand its ripe plum of public funding to private corporations, i.e. EMOs (Educational Maintenance Organizations) that are waiting in the wings to take over the system and become the educational equivalent of the HMOs of American health care.

Government has been hijacked by privatization. Subsequently and predictably it will drop the ball on domestic policy. From privatized welfare, hospitals, prisons, troops fighting privatized non-wars, shooting public citizenscan privatized schools be far behind? WILL OUR SCHOOLS SUFFER THE SAME FATE AS EDUCATION IN THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE KATRINA?

During a recent visit to New Orleans, I had the opportunity to video document “A New Direction for the Gulf Coast” led by Democratic Party Congressional Leaders from Louisiana and beyond, majority whip Congressman James Clyburn from South Carolina (a key state for the presidential primaries), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in attendance. They spoke to the NCLB reauthorization this way:

Interviewer Price: Speaker Pelosi, with the No Child Left Behind reauthorization coming up, there’s great concern that schools in the New Orleans district are not going to be able to make the gradewhat sense does it make to punish schools that are going to need resources anyways?

Speaker Pelosi: I will just say from the perspective of the speaker the chairman has had hearings and listening sessions all over the country and people have come to Washington to share their views on No Child Left Behind. It was clear it was legislation that despite the best of intentions was not fair was not flexible and was not funded. So change had to be made.

Congressman Scott: There’s going to be a lot of changes in No Child Left Behindwe’re going to go to what is called a growth model to make sure that the children are actually improving not a static model so I think that everybody will be treated fairly. We always felt it was absurd to punish a school when the kids came to school three years behind and when they finish with them they are one year behind. We’re going to go to a growth model to see how the schools are doing and I think New Orleans schools are going to do well.

The Democrats are staking everything on the hope that the New Orleans, Louisiana School District (NOLA) and others urban centers will succeed with a growth model. Recently they put $1 billion more dollars than Bush did, allocating into restoration of the vast, devastated region, $30 million for teachers and $30 million for professors of education.

With housing and health care aid still dragging, and two thirds of the students and families having failed to even return, NCLB doesn’t begin to offer help to such schools like NOLA. NCLB and the restoration of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are now in the Democratic Party’s hands.

The Democrats like to say that since they’ve failed to be able to hold Bush to a timeline with legislative efforts, the Iraq War is now “the President’s war.” The same can then be said about No Child Left Behind; since the 2006 election, it’s now owned by Chairman George Miller in the House and Senator Ted Kennedy in the Senate.

Miller seems intent to bring everyone under one big house to reauthorize it. Good luck. He would do well, though, not to treat the teacher unions as just another special interest group, with such a cavalier attitude on display, September 10th, 2007. On the first day of the new draft proposal hearings, he accused Reginald Weaver, the president of the National Education Association (NEA) of “dancing around” the “fact” that the teacher unions had already approved much of the language of the TEACH act. Weaver disagreed.

Miller treated Weaver like he was on trial. He is not. The law is on trial as well as the Democratic Party controlled 110th Congress. Weaver represents the nation’s teachers; it is probably not in Miller’s best interest, nor of the Democratic Party, to make teachers any angrier than they already are. The unions are none-too-impressed with the idea of the federal government superseding collective bargaining rights, nor should they be.

NCLB was intended, according to its advocates, to address what were determined to be the critical problems of social promotion, lack of teacher quality, and critically declining reading and math scores. Yet punishing the schools, narrowing the curriculum by forcing “teach to the test” and creating a bonanza of funds for the testing companies will do little to close the achievement gap. If all the students did, by the year of 2014, make the grade, they would all then, by default, be eligible for college. Are there enough openings for all of these students?

Chairman Miller has been fighting against the student loan companies to make college education affordable. He would do well however to make sure that teachers can afford to teach, too.

TODD ALAN PRICE is an assistant professor of Educational Foundations and Inquiry at National-Louis University. He can be reached at: profprice2002@hotmail.com

His colleague Karen Rybold-Chin of On the Earth Productions, LLC, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison CIMC, have compiled a library series called On the Earth Productions Educational Series which may be accessed through the World Cat online catalogue. For more information, visit www.ontheearthproductions.com

 

 

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