Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
October 28, 2003
by Doug Robinson

Today's column: Trying to understand the federal government's No Child Left Behind law.

Or, as educators fondly call it, No Child Left Untested. Or, No Teacher Left Standing. Or, No Child Left. Or, No Child's Behind Left.

I hope you picked up the sarcasm. If there's one thing that makes a teacher madder than a kid with a spitball, it's this Alice-in-Wonderland legislation.

In case you haven't heard, or you have and you're totally confused remember, these are the same people who wrote the tax laws the law is this: By the year 2014, every child in public school must achieve grade-level proficiency in reading, math and science.

What a great idea perfect children!!! Next the feds will require the Justice Department to reform every criminal in the United States en route to closing all prisons by 2020.

But you can't mean every child, you're thinking. Yes, every child.

Well, you can't mean kids with severe learning disabilities, you're thinking. Yes. Well, you can't mean kids who don't speak English, you're thinking. Yes and the law requires that they be tested in English, too.

Well, you can't mean a child with Down syndrome, you're thinking. Yes! Look, I've only got 650 words to tell you about this insanity, so let's move on.

Each school is required to give expensive tests and show prescribed progress annually, ultimately ending in perfection in 10 years with every child producing a C or better in math, English and science. Not only does the entire student body have to demonstrate annual progress, but the law requires that each sub-group children in poverty, special ed, minorities, transients, learning disabled must make the same progress as the mainstream group.

Fortunately, teachers have lots of spare time to work with these kids, and they can easily fit in the tests and the extra work with the slower kids when they're not pulling playground, bus and cafeteria duty, serving on committees, taking in-service classes, mentoring other teachers, teaching overcrowded classes and grading papers at home just before collapsing in bed. It's the teacher's and school's fault if one kid who doesn't speak English screws up their batting average.

If a school fails to achieve AYP (adequate yearly progress), the entire school is officially labeled a failure. If a school fails to hit AYP for two years, then it faces federally mandated punishments such as termination for teachers and a letter notifying all parents that the school has failed and that they can demand private tutors at school expense and transfer to another school with the school covering the transportation costs.

By the way, nobody has figured out how any of this will be paid for. Essentially, the federal government ordered schools to do all of the above, and when somebody asked how, the feds said, "Search me." Anyone for a bake sale?

"Anybody with two brains cells to rub together can figure out that this is insane!" says Lily Eskelsen, secretary-treasurer of National Education Association. "It . . . can't . . . be . . . done!"

This law is the equivalent of telling a high school track coach that every one of his kids has to run under 12 seconds for 100 meters, including shot putters, discus throwers and pole vaulters. Even though Johnny weighs 100 pounds and runs a world record for 100 meters, he still has to throw the shot put 50 feet or else. Fat kids, skinny kids, slow kids they all must hit the mark, because, as everyone knows, all kids have the same abilities.

"Everybody has to be good at these three things," says Eskelsen.

"An artist or a kid on the debate team or someone good at technology none of that is on the test score."

Eskelsen, who spends about 200 nights a year on the road campaigning against No Child's Behind Left, or whatever it is, refers to the law as a "weapon of mass distraction." Teachers are so distracted by time spent giving these tests and meeting the law's requirements that they have less time for teaching, which means student performance falls, which means the teacher and school will be labeled failures.

By 2014, they'll share that distinction with the legislators and their pie-in-the-sky law.