Sunday, July 04, 2004

LET FREEDOM RING

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was reauthorized in 2001 and is now called No Child Left Behind. Although the debate is intense among parents, teachers, administrators, and legislators, few would argue that NCLB has completely reshaped the federal government's role in American education.

Introduced as the first legislative initiative of President George W. Bush, the final bill received overwhelming bipartisan support. The irony, however, of a Republican president signing into law a bill that dramatically increases the national regulation of public education remains a mystery to me. Whatever happened to the Republican tenets of small government and local school autonomy?

It is this topic of federalization that disturbs me most as a parent, an educator, and a citizen of the United States. Historically, education is primarily a State and local responsibility. Federal contributions to national education expenditures are typically less than 10%. Their role was never intended to be more than an "emergency response system" of sorts. Oh, how times have changed!

Just this week I received an email informing our teaching staff that beginning in 2005, the federal government expects all students in Michigan to be tested from grades 3-8 in reading and mathematics. Testing in other content areas will follow. Well, this educator is hardly jumping up and down with joy over another federal mandate.

The federal government is also beginning to require schools to demonstrate that they are making adequate yearly progress (AYP). The entire altruistic premise of AYP is to ordain the years 2013-14 as the school year in which ALL children in America will meet NCLB academic proficiencies. And why was this holy year of universal achievement chosen? Don't get me wrong. I truly believe ALL students can learn; but not all students achieve success on the same day and in the same way.

Schools that fail to show AYP are made known to the public in some misguided approach to eradicate non-productive teaching and learning. In actuality, AYP is primarily determined by criterion-referenced tests based on state-determined standards. The process is complex, expensive, and unworkable.

Public schools are not the sole provider of education. Writer George Will reminds us that from birth to age nineteen, ninety-one percent of a child's life will be spent outside the boundaries of a schoolhouse. Does anyone in congress recognize this reality? Although nearly blasphemous, my motto for many parents and students echoes Mark Twain's edict "don't let school interfere with your education." Schools can't do it all!

Not all schools are created equal. Poverty, crime, abuse, and a plethora of social problems abound in many dysfunctional pockets of American culture. Kids coming from these settings are not as prepared to learn and require considerably more inspiration on the part of educators to create an attitude for learning. NCLB doesn't take into consideration the reality of a world of haves and have-nots.

Bottom line--I think Americans are asking for their schools back. We don't need federal government micromanaging our curriculum and creating an uncontrollable web of accountability measures. Free us from the tyranny of testing! Return to us the responsibility of creating caring, local communities of learners where no child is truly left behind. Let freedom ring once again for American schools.

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