3/14/2005

No Child Left Behind, Part II

The tests required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are again approaching in Great Falls. Of course, the spin by the Tribune is negative. For example, the headline claims the tests are "looming." Disaster looms; birthday parties don't loom.

It is extremely hard, though, to read the substance of the article and still believe NCLB is a bad thing. Reporter Johnson notes that "failing to meet 'adequate yearly progress,' or AYP can tarnish a school's image and bring federal sanctions after repeated failures, such as allowing parents to transfer students to a better performing school at district expense." Well, if a school consistently fails to teach students, the students should be allowed a choice, shouldn't they?

Now, due to NCLB, "
teachers 'teach from bell to bell,' reduce fun lessons not directly tied to main reading and math focus areas and even run regular practice tests for students." Well, I hope they teach "bell to bell." I work "bell to bell," don't you? If students are not achieving at grade level, then hard work and regular drills sound like just the ticket, don't they?

Lonnie Yingst, Assistant superintendent, points out that now there are accelerated courses that require "higher skill levels at earlier ages," that many kindergarteners can read by the end of that year, and that second graders are now learning multiplication, something that used to wait until third grade. Again, how can these things be portrayed as negative?

Well, it's because for teachers there is "no lessening of the pressure. They still much teach from bell to bell all year," leaving them "feeling challenged and stressed." Teachers are professionals. Professions are, almost by definition, challenging and stressful positions. That is why they are compensated at levels far above median wages. Accountability is stressful, and accountability defines professionalism.

Then they describe the story of Matt, a local fifth grader. His mom complains that there is "no down time to teach fun activities not directly tied to reading and math lessons." Matt is afraid that if he and his buddies don't do well on the tests, his teacher "might get in trouble." (Hmm, wonder where he got that idea?) Then, the article notes, Matt had to give up some of his "free-wheeling, creative gifted class" in order to learn math. So, that means that before NCLB students were giving up learning time to do fun activities?

Hey, I'm a parent too. And I hope my kids can enjoy school. But grade inflation and "free-wheeling" fun activities don't exist in real life. They will be required to perform. So my kids need to learn.


Next, the article also points out how well Great Falls schools do compared to other schools in the state and nation. It reminds me of the old saying, "If it ain't broke, ..."

The bottom line is that it seems to be about priorities. NCLB has forced the schools to refocus their priorities on the basics, presently reading and math. We can argue on whether those are the correct priorities; I believe they are. If one were to assume that these are the correct priorities, then what the schools are doing is absolutely correct. Focus on the basics, and only after you have achieved proficiency in those, do we wander off to "free-wheeling" and "fun" activities.


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