LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND?  

12/06/02  

    For people working in education and for much of the public, hardly a day goes by without some talk about the Leave No Child Behind Act, the centerpiece of the Bush Administrationís education policy. School districts across the country are scurrying to get in compliance with this federal law which requires schools to make yearly progress towards achieving higher standards and time-lines for achieving them established by their states. What a great law. Who could possibly be against higher standards? The law contains strong accountability measures, too. Reaching state determined higher standards is linked to federal funding. Finally, schools will be accountable. Schools will get better results or their students will have the option of being bussed to a higher performing school.

    Right! What patent nonsense!

    This law, pushed by the President but, sadly, supported by Democrats who should have known better and/or had more courage, has the laughable consequence of punishing schools in the states with the highest standards. You need know no more than the fact that Arkansas, usually at the bottom of any measure of school achievement, has no substandard schools this year while New York has many. Thus, we now have states contemplating lowering their standards so as not to get trapped into being penalized by a federal law spawn out of ignorance. This absurd state of affairs is but the latest "data" to support one of the iron laws of education Ė the longer one works in education, the less sense the enterprise seems to make. Wonderful things happen for children in most of our nationís schools. However, much of what enriches the lives of our students happens despite the way in which schools are structured to educate them.

    Where are the teacher unions on the Leave No Child Behind Act? Have you heard a public word from them about the absurdity of this law? In the recent political season, did they use their considerable skill and resources to educate the public to the fraud that has been perpetrated on them in the name of leaving no children behind? The fact of the matter is that they have mildly criticized the law at its margins, thereby missing an opportunity to organize their membership and much of the public who could easily be shown that this law is not what its supporters pretend. The could even be bold enough to mount a campaign for real academic standards, the kind that require students to know things before they are asked to do higher order thinking about them. 

    What if we told the truth? What if we stopped trying to apologize for problems we did not create and which we are not given the resources to fix? What if we tenaciously exposed the cynicism of those who craft laws to leave no child behind but who do nothing to address the conditions in which many of those left behind live? What if we exposed the fact that even in many of our affluent schools, standards appear high but are really quite low because they are run by managers who have no interest in learning, themselves having studied little beside educationist theory? What if we fought our way to the high moral ground now held by those who know nothing about educating children and who really donít care about them? What if we led a civil rights movement for children? Might we not in the process finally leave those who brought us this law behind?

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