Must every child be left behind?

Editorial - June 2006

There’s nothing like the magic of the last day of school. All these little people’s bodies are sitting in the classrooms but their brains are already on vacation. As the bell rings, they blast out of the doors for the last time, no longer kindergartners or fifth graders. Suddenly, they are a year more powerful in the playground hierarchy.

For many kids, the last day of school marks the last time they will think about school until August.

We adults cannot afford that luxury.

Parents, teachers, administrators and property taxpayers need to keep schools on our minds. That’s because the federal No Child Left Behind law continues to affect our kids and our public schools.

The law has a very worthy goal: To ensure that every child gets a good education, regardless of race, ethnicity, special needs or anything else.

Our concern is with the implementation. This law carries a heavy stick—the threat of serious sanctions such as paying for outside tutors, allowing students to transfer to higher-performing schools, the takeover of underperforming schools and the firing of faculty and staff. The result is administrators desperate to bring up standardized test scores.

That means our schools become all about the test. Teachers are teaching to the test. Worse, increasingly they are teaching about the test and spending days giving practice tests.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Each year, the demands rise. In 2014, we should, according to the law, hit the year when no child will be left behind any longer, which means 100 percent of public school children make the grade.

While school officials struggle to meet the mandates of the law (or risk losing their jobs), we want to know: What about the kids?

We are not convinced this law is helping children. We hear stories all the time about schools that are dumbing down the curriculum, ending the arts programs, even reducing science instruction so they can concentrate on reading, math and, in some grades, social studies, the subjects tested under No Child Left Behind.

Gone (or going) are the gifted programs, the innovative approaches to learning, the understanding that kids learn in many different ways.

We want to hear about your experiences with the law (see box on this page).

After you write to us, let our political leaders know what’s wrong with this law as well. No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization in 2007. That means we have two chances to influence how the flaws in the law get fixed. First, Google "No Child Left Behind Commission," click on "I’m Feeling Lucky" and send your comments to the commission considering changes for the reauthorization.

Then turn your attention to the fall elections. They are critical to our kids’ future. Where congressional candidates stand on No Child Left Behind and how they believe the law must be tweaked to ensure it doesn’t leave every child behind should be the No. 1 issue of the campaign.

That will happen only if we make it our priority to ensure it does.

No Child Left Behind has had a greater impact on public schools than any other federal law in recent memory. No school that accepts federal Title 1 funding has escaped the law’s focus on making sure that all children are making the grade, or the threat of sanctions and loss of funding for those that don’t.

We’d like to hear from you about your child’s experience at school. How has No Child Left Behind affected your child? Is it ensuring she gets the additional help she needs to make the grade? Or is it limiting his options by reducing the time spent on art or the support offered to gifted students? Does your school spend too much time getting kids ready for standardized tests? Or not enough? Have you considered taking your child out of public school because of the law? Have you done it?

Send your detailed account of how No Child Left Behind has affected your child and your school to: Be sure to include your full name, address and phone number(s) as well as the full name and address of your school.

We’ll print as many of your comments as we can in a future issue.

Kids Eat Chicago

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