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Friday, January 13, 2012

No Child Left Behind Opinion

It is impossible not to ‘leave some children behind’ because of the minimum required language skills to pass a standardized test. No Child Left Behind was based on the Texas model. When we first moved to Texas, the tests only affected how much money the school district received; and many of the special needs children were exempted or given modified tests. This year, about 12 years later, all children must pass the test in order to be moved on the next grade and no one is exempted. Do we really want adults who cannot and have not passed the test remain in elementary school? I suppose, eventually, special elementary schools will have to be built. I have asked teachers, special education workers, and principals what they are going to do with the children who are unable to pass the test. They shrug and shake their heads – “No Child Left Behind” makes no sense to them.

Another issue that has arisen is school funding. When schools are defunded due to low test scores they are less able to provide salaries that will attract the best teachers. This seems to be counterproductive to what is trying to be achieved. Also, the defunded schools are unable to provide the materials required for education such as books and other necessary classroom items. This causes the struggling schools to struggle more. A friend of mine, who has been in some of the defunded schools, has told me that she knows of schools where the students have to share texts and sit two to a desk. I understand the idea of incentives, but defunding isn’t the way to do it. I do not think that giving more money to underperforming schools is the answer either. Then schools are incentivized to do poorly in order to receive more funding.

I would prefer that every child have the opportunity to reach their potential rather than No Child Left Behind. Right now, teachers have to teach to the average. This means “the gifted” (as we call them) must slow down to the pace of the average, while “the struggling” get left behind. In order for every child to reach their potential, every child would need an IEP (individual education plan), not just the special education students. In my experience, the IEP helps but isn’t always effective. First of all, the teachers actually have to follow it, which has been a struggle for them in my experience. Secondly, the district is limited in how they teach. I have a ten year old autistic son named John. The district has been trying to fit him into the public education box since he was three years old. He outright refuses to do what they want when they want it. I have often thought that they need to change the way they teach my autistic child – instead of trying to shove his square peg into their round hole.

The hearts of the people who created No Child Left Behind were in the right place. But it simply does not work the way it was intended. Preferably, teaching children toward their own potential is a better goal. Instead of spending money on creating the perfect test, maybe we need to have evaluators go to each school and see how they are achieving the best for each student. Maybe, instead of defunding, we need to teach best practices in schools that are struggling. Maybe instead of standardizing education we should customize it. We are not all the same and that is what makes our world work.

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