2006-08-31 / Editorial Page

President Bush's historic education reform bill, No Child Left Behind, is a lofty goal that seeks to have every child in school on grade level by the year 2014, mainly by increased testing of students. Whether or not it is succeeding in raising our children's intelligence level or in "closing the achievement gap," I'm not convinced that more testing is the answer.

Enforcing higher standards is certainly the best way to improve in any walk of life; however, I'm just skeptical enough to believe that anytime we rely on government-borne initiatives to educate our children, we end up shirking our responsibilities as parents and as citizens.

Education begins at home and ultimately, ends at home. Without parental involvement that includes discipline, decency, and a modicum of common sense, public schools are doomed to failure no matter how many "initiatives" are employed to smarten up our youth. "Hmptt!" said a teacher friend of mine, "we don't need this No Child Left Behind stuff. We need a program called No Child Left With a Behind!"

In my opinion, our educational system has been legislated to death. Even programs like NCLB have not guaranteed us students with superior intellect. It's a fact. We continue to graduate students every year who are functionally illiterate and the truth of the matter is that, according to governmental standards, some children will indeed be left behind. Not because they are incapable of learning but because they may be incapable of keeping up with their peers.

Like it or not, some children are not as smart as others. That's life. It doesn't mean we allow the average student to fall by the wayside, it only means not every child is a scholar. I'm not a scholar. I'm certainly capable of learning but I will never be a whiz at math, among other things, nor do I care to be.

We may all have been created equal, but after birth, it's every man for himself. Life is made up of inequities, many of our own making, many that are just meant to be. Can you imagine how we would react to a government mandated program called No Parent Left Behind?

Required to obtain intellectual equal footing with all our peers, we would be tested periodically on our progress and our income taxes would rise and fall according to our performance. Many of us would be hard-pressed to come up with the cash at the end of the year, I'll bet. It's scary, isn't it?

I have an idea many of us would be shocked to see just how lacking we are in average intelligence. In defense of the less enlightened among us, it has been said, "all of us are ignorant...only on different subjects." I find that to be a truth, and a comfort.

President Bush says that "more testing would increase accountability by casting a bright light on student performance" but according to an article in the Baltimore Sun, nearly half of the states that already test students year after year in reading and math use tests that don't measure students' performance against standards. They only gauge how students' knowledge of subjects stacks up that of a national sample.

"The national sample," says Thomas Toch, governmental studies scholar, "could know a lot of math or hardly any. The tests don't tell us one way or the other."

So much of classroom time, it seems, is now spent "cramming" for achievement tests, rather than giving ample time to any single subject matter. Just reading short disconnected passages of literature to bone up for tests is not the same thing as reading and studying entire literary works.

This is why when students "practice" for a particular state reading test, they may do well on that test and score poorly on a subsequent test filled with another set of short "samples." Rote memorization is a poor substitute for knowledge.

Having worked in the public school system for fourteen years, I offer my qualified but limited opinion that way too much instructional time is wasted on "practicing up" for the next round of state mandated tests.

Am I completely anti-public school? No. And if you teach in the public school system, I apologize if my opinion offends you. I am not your enemy. In fact, I salute you and I feel sorry for you at the same time.

You have one of the toughest jobs in the country for, whether or not you realize it; you're fighting today for the right to teach. I mean really teach, without interference from some government entity that insists it knows better than you how to teach the children whose faces you see every morning.

But I do think if we don't make some major changes in the operation of our schools and call a halt to so much government interference, we'll soon legislate ourselves right out of teaching and into producing young people who are ill-equipped to function in today's society unless Uncle Sam holds them by the hand.

Albert Einstein summed up education when he said, "Information is not knowledge." And then he went one better. "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

Class Dismissed.

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