Original URL: http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/opinion/13711.php

No Child Left Behind
March 14, 2004
By Bruce P. Murchison

Bush's desire to see children meet certain standards is not unreasonable

The federal government seems to have a love affair with unfunded mandates. When President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind legislation, it was met with an incredible amount of uproar, mainly from the educational community.
The National Education Association was quick to condemn it, as did many school districts across America, including Tucson Unified School District. This comes as no surprise to me because, with many liberal organizations, the "A" word (accountability) makes them shudder.
Any time you have to produce results, somebody is going to make excuses. They place blame elsewhere. They pass the buck.
As a teacher who supports the No Child Left Behind law, I am one of a very small minority in the educational community who sees its value.
Just about every piece of legislation ever passed has had something that someone didn't like, and this legislation is no different.
It is difficult to have more and more work put on the teachers as we have an incredible amount of work to do already. And like most teachers, I don't like being told how to do my job. Either I am a professional and should be trusted to do my job, or I am not and should be fired.
However, when looked at carefully, there isn't an unreasonable request being made. The president wants to see all students meet a certain standard in reading, writing and math, something we are supposed to be teaching and reinforcing already. So, what is the problem?
The problem seems to lie in the "standardized" testing. If students do not perform well on the tests, the school is deemed to be a failure. Reg Weaver, the president of the NEA, stated in a December Star article that among the schools that were listed as failures was Princeton High School in Princeton, N.J., where "100 percent graduate and 79 percent go on to four-year colleges, including seven National Merit semifinalists in this year (2003) alone."
Obviously there is a problem here. Either the tests are not addressing what is taught in the classroom, the courses are not teaching what is expected to be tested, or our standards in our schools have been and still are far below what they should be. I lean toward the latter two reasons.
Looking at what is being taught versus what is on the test, I can personally say I have seen a huge difference. Back in the mid-1990s when we started giving the AIMS test, the math portion covered problems that students wouldn't see unless they had taken Intermediate Algebra.
The problem was, students were not required to take math beyond the first year of algebra. This was setting up the children for failure. Little has changed.
If the standard is higher than what we are teaching, then change the requirements so they meet the standard.
Various excuses have been used to explain away poor performance here in Tucson.
"The test is culturally biased." So change it.
"The reading level is too high." So teach the kids to read better.
"The students have limited English proficiency." So immerse them in English.
Stop whining and just do it. Start at the kindergarten level and make sure students don't go on until they have met the standard. It's not a difficult concept.
Stop socially promoting kids and hold them to the standard. We all too often see students struggling and rather than finding a different approach to teaching them, we just want to get them out of our hair.
Each state now knows the standard. It is up to them to figure out how to help the students meet that standard.
Arizona is currently one of the worst in the nation in education both in funding and in quality. (Arizona's Report Card for Public Education - www.azcommerce.com/pdf/prop/ sesreports/PublicEd.pdf).
We are the last ones who should be whining about being asked to improve our schools. While there is plenty of blame to go around, it starts with us. Each teacher, teaching one child at a time, looking at the standard and using our knowledge and skill to help each student achieve it, so that ultimately, there is No Child Left Behind.
Bruce P. Murchison is a science teacher at Sahuaro High School and an adjunct instructor in political science at Pima Community College