Published on Monday, December 29, 2003 by the Capital Times / Madison, WI
Program Leaves True Education Behind
by Dave Zweifel
The federal government's No Child Left Behind Act is another of those programs with a sugar-coated name that leaves behind a bitter taste for those who are forced to follow its dictates.
The act, which is the brainchild of George Bush and his GOP colleagues, requires the states to require their students to pass regular standardized tests, ostensibly to demonstrate that public schools are "serving" their students.
The leadership of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and others involved in Wisconsin's educational system have been critical of the act not so much because of what it requires, but because of what it forces students to do without.
Nearly everything taught in school is now geared at doing well on those tests - either that or become a failing school and suffer all the consequences that go with.
But don't take my word for it.
A recent issue of the Chicago Tribune included a comprehensive piece about the No Child Left Behind Act and what it's doing to some Chicago area schools, particularly the premier ones, which have been offering their students a wide-ranging curriculum.
Because the federal "reforms" focus solely on reading and math, schools are concentrating on those subjects and sacrificing others - like history, for example.
One principal of a downstate Illinois high school is sacrificing a semester of social studies starting in January so that his school can prep its 11th graders for their exams with an additional math class, the paper reported.
"In the name of accountability, what we are doing is undermining most children's education," Monty Neill, who recently wrote a book about the state testing programs, told the paper. "Everything gets so standardized. There's nothing new allowed. Variety is driven out.
"The problem is schools are under this tremendous pressure to raise test scores very fast and the most common response is a shortcut," he added. "We're going to produce a generation of kids who are good at test-taking, but not much else."
Another impact of the act, the Tribune reported, is the use of prizes to get the students to work harder on the reading and math studies, again in an effort to get the test scores up.
Illinois' state Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller doesn't like that.
"It sends the message that you want to bribe students to do the right thing," he said. "It's a mistake. You can't teach a kid reading comprehension in a week."
The new federal education tack may indeed make better readers and mathematicians out of our children, but they will get out of school not knowing much else. That can't be good news for this nation's future.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times