Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

The Debate: No Child Left Behind

Read the U.S. Department of Education's "No Child Left Behind" site, and you might think that the act is the best thing since sliced bread.

* For America's nine-year-olds in reading, more progress was made in five years than in the previous 28 combined.
* America's nine-year-olds posted the best scores in reading (since 1971) and math (since 1973) in the history of the report. America's 13-year-olds earned the highest math scores the test ever recorded.
* Reading and math scores for African American and Hispanic nine-year-olds reached an all-time high.
* Math scores for African American and Hispanic 13-year-olds reached an all-time high.
* Achievement gaps in reading and math between white and African American nine-year-olds and between white and Hispanic nine-year-olds are at an all-time low.

Talk to teachers and school administrators, and No Child Left Behind seems to be universally hated. Earlier this week, National Education Association president Reg Weaver recommended sweeping changes to the law. Teachers say the law forces them to teach students to pass a paper-and-pencil test rather than teach more creatively. School systems such as Fairfax County are battling the Feds over testing immigrant children who are just learning English. School after school, state after state, those in the teaching profession say that expecting every student to hit the No Child targets doesn't take into account student differences.

What do you think? If you were testifying to Congress this week, what would you ask for?

Today's Talkers: Md. Moves To Tie Teens' Truancy to Licenses ... Family Almanac: Standing By a Daughter During a Difficult Time ... Musical 'Seussical' Engages Kids Great and Small

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 16, 2007; 10:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
Previous: Baby Bounceback | Next: Peer Pressure


The reason I like NCLB is that it is finally holding states' feet to the fire. For too long, states have hidden their poor schools, sweeping things under the rug. Moreover, states have been able to hide behind the fact that their testing methods vary wildly. It's impossible to know how to talk about different states and their educational systems.

Finally, and most importantly, NCLB has forced states to make sure that ALL students, regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic background, succeed academically. Again, for far too long, states have treated schools with heavy minority populations as dumping grounds and haven't cared about those students' academic success. It's about time we stop allowing inner-city kids attend crumbling schools and fail, while creating educational temples for our rich, white suburban kids.

Posted by: Ryan | March 16, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Also, as for the testing issue, I call B.S. on that. Teachers across the country use tests ALL THE TIME for their own grading system. Presumably, that means the teachers are "teaching to the test", doesn't it? Moreover, if the test covers material that you believe a child should know by the end of the year, isn't then a GOOD thing to be "teaching to the test"? In that case, if you're "teaching to the test", it means that you're teaching material that your students should know. The only teachers who have something to fear are those who aren't doing a good job teaching PERIOD.

The fact is that the best teachers, who usually do teach "creatively", will also have students who succeed at the tests. Why? Because if the test covers material that the students should know and if the teacher is covering such material (whether creatively or non-creatively -- whatever that means), then the students will do well.

Really, this is a false dilemma being set up by those who like allowing kids to fail: Either teach creatively or teach to the test. The fact is that one can, and should, do both.

Posted by: Ryan | March 16, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Ryan makes excellent points. How in the world can the material that is being taught in school vary so differently from the material on the tests? To the point of making progress so difficult?

I suspect the reason why educators and administrators hate NCLB is because the stakes are exceptionally high, there is much at stake, and there is forced accountability. NCLB in my view calls for a substantial change in the way that children are educated, and change is seldom welcomed with open arms in education. I agree that there is a way to teach to the test and to do it in a way that is creative and geared towards different types of learners.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 16, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Accountability is important. That being said, I can only say that people should look at these numbers with suspicion. I personally know of instances where kids being tested were given opportunities to cheat. Answer books being left open at the front of the room, teachers employing methods to communicate the correct response. The thing that had never made any sense to me is the idea the school funding should be tied to school performance. If a school is failing, why should money be taken away? How are teachers supposed to educate with fewer resources? It makes more sense to me that teachers be told that they have to improve over time or risk losing their jobs. In the case of the school I am speaking about, the teachers rigged the testing precisely because they were told the school could not afford to lose funding. Talk about putting teachers in between a rock and a hard place. Let's not forget that education is not solely in the hands of the schools. Our schools are not capable of repairing broken down families and sadly, kids from broken homes are less likely to succeed in school, regardless of the teacher or resources available.

Posted by: LM in WI | March 16, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I absolutely agree that NCLB finally holds school systems accountable for the underpriveledged kids. Just look at Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country and their failures. The achievement gaps and dropout rates for minorities are unacceptable. Parts of VA, with far less funds, are making progress in these areas that FCPS is not. There are 3000 kids in FCPS who are both ESOL and Special ED and they have 11 teachers who are certified in both areas. It is no surprise they are not passing the standardized tests. In 2005, FCPS REDUCED the number of ESOL teaches by 100. Wht kind of sense does that make when they are failing these kids to begin with. I have little sympathy for their arguments when they clearly are not devoting adequate resources to the problem.
I'm glad the DOE is holding their ground and threating to withhold funds. Money and lawsuits is the only to get school systems to respond.

Posted by: nova parent | March 16, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I have a problem with the current system. If you go to your kids school and listen to the special meetings they have for preparing the kids for HSAs all you hear is they have to work faster, be faster. everything is about memorizing and knowing how to write fast . Everything is timed.
If you need to take a few min. get your thoughts together, forget it because you don't have enough time to answer the questions completely. What is the rush!!! I understand that they have to have a cut off time but even the teachers I have talked to think this is crasy. Yes schools need to be held accountable and our students need to learn but not everyone learns the same way and all this testing is adding unneeded anxiety & stress onto todays kids. They need more physical activity and creative ways of using their talents. schools are finding the need to cut PE, Art, Music and other electives so they can fund more NCLB expenditures. I say let the teachers teach and let the government clean up their own house.

Posted by: Vicki | March 16, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

What is shocking about FCPS's defiance is the way the School Board just rolled over on the issue. Only one SB member voted against the measure and the questions that were asked of Dale and his office were lacking in substance. I encourage parents to listen to the tape of the meeting on the website. Until School Boards start to act independently of superintendents and stop behaving like a herd of cattle, kids and parents will never get the best out of their school system.

Mayor Fenty has it right about dismantling school boards-there is absolutely no independence so why do they bother to exist at all?

Posted by: smoke and mirrors | March 16, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I think it's OK for teachers to teach creatively, but I want everybody to learn. I'm not sure that always happens when there isn't accountability.

A kid who can't read and do math is at a huge disadvantage. It's more than just how much he/she improved. To work and hold their own in the world they need to reach certain levels.

It's like the "teach a man to fish" verse in the bible. Teach a kid to read, and read well, and he has the tools to see himself through life.

I really think that's equality, and that schools need to do their best to hit that, even if teachers don't like it.

Posted by: AnnR | March 16, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I think the desire to have ALL children meeting a standard of education is not a bad thing. However, the fact of the matter is that students come from different environments. Should a teacher or school system suffer because a parent doesn't help their child STUDY material taught in class? A teacher TEACHES a student, but cannot help the student study once out of class.

I agree with "LM in WI" that the answer is not to cut funding. How is a failing school supposed to provide training for weaker teachers or hire better/more experienced teachers without adequate funding.

Three of my friends just became teachers last year. They hate NCLB because it doesn't provide them flexibility in their teaching. For example, the class was studying about the solar system and one of the children asked about Pluto. However, because it was not on the test she decided not to explore further the child's question.

Finally, how would you feel if your job was on the line, and success is measured by Sponge-Bob watching students?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 16, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

NCLB provides false accountability. It does not measure how well students are learing. Rather, it measures how well each school runs its test preparation. In teaching to the test, kids spend weeks not learning substantively, but rather learning how best to answer different types of questions. It's like prep for the SAT or bar exam - you don't learn content, you learn how to take the test. Look at how NCLB has identified failing schools - high performing schools (including some locally) were designated as failing because more than 5% of the students (or 5% of certain subgroups) did not take the test, for whatever reason. Lastly, teachers and administrators do not hate NCLB because it holds them accountable. They hate it because it is a giant unfunded mandate; it diverts local funds and resources away from the classroom and redirects them to administration and compliance with the law. There are valid arguments to be made regarding the need to address teacher accountability, teacher qualifications, and measuring student performance. But NCLB, as written, does not address them in a way that will actually improve public education.

Posted by: anonymous | March 16, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

The problem I have with this is that we take away PE and art and music to allow for time to focus solely on reading and math (and if those cut programs are expendable according to proponents -- which I would doubt, but I will admit my tendency towards arts advocacy here -- how about history? Science? The ability to write a coherent sentence, rather than just read and decipher one, which teachers have said is becoming more rare to find at the upper levels? These get sacrificed too in the name of these particular tests -- and all of these had already been in danger from a lack of funding, and ironically now the districts might have the money but not the time to allow these programs to flourish.)

Accountability is a good thing, and I can support the theory -- the system needs to be severely fixed though, before I can fully stand behind it in practice.

Posted by: Mouse | March 16, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The mindnumbing content of some lesson plans hit home with me when my daughter was in fifth grade. She is a good student and was memorizing all these generals from The American Revolutionary War-people I had never even heard of. I asked her to explain to me the difference between the ARW and The Civil War and she couldn't. What is the point of memorizing minor historical people and not understanding MAJOR concepts? I question the content and reasoning behind the curriculum in many cases. I don't know if it is dictated by these tests or not-but with all these sophisticated tools available today, it doesn't look like the kids are any smarter.

Posted by: confused mom | March 16, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I think the "all academic all the time" mentality of FCPS is destroying just as many kids as it is accelerating, despite what the scores say. What they have done is stack up loads of homework on the kids and send it home for the parents to teach. When the kid falls behind, the parents are encouraged to have their child tested for a learning disability. Notice how many of these "disabilities" have cropped up in the last decade with more on the way. Once a child is diagnosed with a disability, his test score on the standardized test is not included and the school gets extra funding.

The pharmisutical companies are loving it. The school system is pressuring the parents of academically "slower", physically more active kids to put them on drugs. The boys are taking the biggest hit and its now showing up on college graduation rates.

If you know a social worker that deals with teenager, ask them about the skyrocketing rate of school phobia. The system is making many kids literally sick.

My teenage daughter is taking chemistry this year. She has yet to touch a test tube, bunson burner, beaker or triple beam.

Oh well, as long as we can all get our ears tickled with rising test results, the schools have to be doing something right. Right?

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 16, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Until we start firing bad teachers and paying the good ones more, schools will never improve. The unions are destroying our schools. Rarely do they advance an issue that benefits a child. They want more pay, better benefits and less accountability. Parents need to fight back.

Posted by: novel idea | March 16, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I agree that there are more meds prescribed now, but I'm not sure of the correlation to the school environment. I do know that schools can and often do pressure parents to medicate their active, inattentive or disruptive kids. Pressure can take the form of differential treatment in the classroom, numerous suspensions, expulsions and placement in emotionally/behaviorally disturbed self-contained classrooms and schools. Many parents medicate the children not only to help them but to save or protect them.

The reason why I say that I'm not sure of the correlation is because I think this pressure would occur regardless of the existence of NCLB. Although NCLB may be causing more pressure.

Also, there were some elementary schools in Prince George's County that failed to make adequate yearly progress a couple of years ago. Those schools appealed and won, because they basically said that the special education students pulled down the test scores. So at least some kids with disabilities are taking the tests.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 16, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
Should be called - Almost All Children Left Behind.
This educational phase and system means nothing in regards to student comprehension, learning and educational growth.
Performance Based Grading is a failure!
Children must have education not classes that stress "The Test" nobody learns this way. I have seen teacher accountability completely drop because they can use this NCLB as an excuse. They do not teach the topic just the test - they do not get to know the student on an academic level just the grade achieved on the test.
NCLB accompanied with the Edline system is a system set up for failure. We are going to have a group of students that will burn out by the time college comes around. They will not know how or enjoy how to study or be interested in the topic at hand. They will be able to have a "bookie" mentality when it come to averaging their grades and weighing the options "It's ok if I get an E today- I will achieve an A later which will balance my grade!"
This system is a failure and I feel very sorry for every parent- child and teacher that has to put up with this moronic cycle in our educational system at large.

Posted by: edra | March 16, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

"The ability to write a coherent sentence, rather than just read and decipher one, which teachers have said is becoming more rare to find at the upper levels?"

LOL @ the irony ... try including a verb next time, eh? ;)

Posted by: To Mouse | March 16, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I think it was a terrible waste of money. Everyone is well aware of the good vs. bad schools - who needs tests to tell us? Now schools are cutting other curriculums (recess, languague arts, art, music, etc) so that they can teach to the test.

If you just give parents the ability to move their kids - i.e., vouchers - then the good schools would get money and the bad schools would have to go away. All without spending gobs of taxpayer money on it.

I do like that people have more information and access to it. That is always good. But I think we could get there without this legislation.

Posted by: atlmom | March 16, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Ryan--teaching to the test doesn't necessarily equate to having a strong understanding of the material. Let me give you an example, writing. When I was in high school, I asked a teacher why there was so much emphasis on this 5-paragraph model of writing, when it didn't really speak to good preparation for college. Her answer: Students could pass Gateway (a standardized test necessary for graduation) with a 5-paragraph essay, and hence by teaching it, they were helping students overcome that hurdle. However, students come into college not really knowing how to write as a result.

Students wind up focusing more on things that help with the test than that help them. And lots of other things, for example, textbooks. School boards might wind up ordering textbooks that are better suited for the standardized test as opposed to ones that explain concepts clearly to students.

I also think using tests to "fire teachers"
may be more likely to result in witch hunting than screening out bad teachers. Often times, states and schools will pick easier tests and curricula in order to deal with the new standards.

Accountability is a good idea but instead of putting in a bunch of state mandated tests. A better idea than using a single specific test would be in my opinion would be wholistic teacher evaluations. Usually, with no mandates, schools have to do a couple rounds of testing, anyhow. So, you might look at things like how did students with a certain teacher perform a year later? Two years later? You could have student evaluations, and peer evaluations from other teachers who could study each other lesson plans. You could have well-respected retired teachers evaluate and observe. By using a variety of tools instead of a single poorly written possibly badly suited test, you could make better judgments.

Posted by: college kid | March 16, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I think the program is a good one if only for the following observations:
When I moved from Florida my Junior year of HS, I had already aced the graduation test. Georgia made me take another one anyway because they had quote unquote different standards. Yeah they sure did... with questions such as which does not belong, a square, a rectangle, or a circle? Some people were having to take the test for the third time!!! Granted a test does not prove anything as far as comprehension, but it can be a useful tool. I think the major problems are not just a lack of motivation in students, but the parents and teachers who just do not care- or have no aptitude for teaching!
Not to come across as an @$$ or anything, but it was funny- in a sad way- to watch fellow college students struggle in reading and writing! The future of America??? More needs done to encourage reading at a young age- maybe a detour from the stuffy literature, if only to encourage students to read something- ANYTHING! I grew up loving sci-fi and fantasy novels, but they still provided me with more substance than the average kid received.

I had a math teacher who was great at math, but could not get the teachings across to me. She was frustrated when anyone asked for help, yet was so cool she made teacher of the year- just showing that EVERYTHING is more about popularity than substance. I passed the class, barely, and signed myself up for a free summer course so I could get a different teacher who was willing to provide different examples and explain the steps. The teacher wanted to know why I was there- as I made As on everything! I told him I had gotten a D before and did not understand anything my previous teacher had taught, but the way he explained everything made the concepts simple to grasp and apply to the complex problems. He was amazed! If more teachers cared about teaching, and making sure their students could get something, instead of just teaching and moving on without trying to help those asking for it, there wouldn't be such an education problem. A huge issue is that not many people want to teach, simply because it is not as valued a profession as it should be.

Posted by: Chris | March 16, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The public school system is just a Soviet Union bureaucracy. Phrases like "creativity", "all kids are special", "the parents should know", "testing is unfair", ... are just simple ways for teachers AS WELL AS the school administrators to get away with not doing their jobs.

Looking at countries like Singapore, we know for sure that academic excellence does not mean rote memorization. On the other hand, why are we so concerned about "things are timed". Look at the auto-makers, or even McDonalds or even high-tech industry. It's all about getting your job done on time. We can all decry how UNFAIR testing or NCLB is. Testing are done everywhere such as Eastern Europe, China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, England, ... If we want our children to be able to compete globally in the future, unfortunately they have to measure up internationally. Otherwise, they'll be left will flipping-burger jobs because all the other jobs that require academic excellence will be outsourced.

Competition (like it or not) made US strong (look at our high-tech). We can complain and complain. Just look at GM, Ford and Chrysler. And we can demand academic excellence to prepare our kids for their future jobs. Or maybe we can pray that we'll be dead before our children grow up and notice that they can't find decent jobs and start blaming us for not doing good job in parenting.

Posted by: ryip | March 16, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I would ask Congress to repeal NCLB and start all over again, this time designing realistic objectives. NCLB has been a boondoggle for testing companies but a miserable unfunded mandate for the states.

Posted by: corinne | March 16, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Quote There are 3000 kids in FCPS who are both ESOL and Special ED and they have 11 teachers who are certified in both areas. Unquote

Excuse me, but George Mason has a very popular program in which graduate students end up being certified to teach ESOL K-12, Early Childhood general Education NK-3rd, and Early Childhood Special Education birth to age 5. Vast numbers of ESOL teachers in FCPS and Prince William County came out of this program. Many K, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers did as well, and so nearly half of FCPS preschool special ed teachers. So while an ESOL teacher working elem, middle, or high school students might not be certified in k-12 special ed, they would have a decent knowledge base related to special education.

Posted by: special ed teacher | March 16, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

The principals and administrators know who the lousy teachers are. We don't need some sophisticated testing method to figure out who they are. The problem is the unions protect their jobs. I would love to know what percentage of teachers are fired every year for poor performance. I bet none. It is sad because the bad ones hurt everyone-including all the hard-working dedicated ones who have to make up for the slackers.

My guess is that the better teacher's students probably do well on the standarized tests because they have received a good education. These tests are a good way to measure a teacher's performance and that is why the school's want to get rid of them.

Posted by: get real | March 16, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Just my opinion, corinne, but I don't think the feds should be involved in education.

And there shouldn't BE ESOL. There wasn't when I was a kid. There was a student in our class who was a year older than the rest of us cause she had to retake kindergarten cause they only spoke French at home. Having her NOT be in our classes would have been worse for her and would have made it MORE difficult for her to learn english.

My grandmother learned english in school, since no one at home really knew it and she was the oldest. So be it...that's the WAY KIDS LEARN. Just throw them in there, don't expect them to necessarily be as ahead as their peers, since they don't know the language, but this crap about them learning all their subjects in their language is a waste of time.

Not to be insensitive or anything....;)

Posted by: atlmom | March 16, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Another effect on standardized testing, and the problems with it:

The District looks at average standardized test scores of each school and closes the ones with the lowest average. They do not consider whether these ones which are lower have the poorest kids with least parent involvement and most transience and the like. But, by closing the school and moving them to a much larger school, these low performing kids continue to be low performers, they just do not pull down the average as much. Worse, these low performing kids often do worse (at least according to a recent study at Stanford) and/or drop out. Dropping out helps the averages, so you could argue it is a good policy (Texas allegedly uses that to improve their scores), but the consequences are likely dire for society (more crime or welfare or both). The problem is that the poor performing school may in fact have those particular kids doing much better than they would in another school (due to extra attention, etc), but decision makers are taught that "statistics do not lie". This is the opposite of some of your situations (where statistics show "common sense" to be wrong).

Posted by: college kid | March 16, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

to get real: no joke...the unions are about protecting teacher's jobs, not educating students.
The head of the union will tell you that.

Posted by: atlmom | March 16, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

My husband lost his teaching job due to low test scores in a middle class school district.

The students he was teaching cared little and did not attend after school help sessions or do their homework on a regular basis. My husband stayed late daily to help anyone who wanted it. (This was high school and not NCLB tests, but NYS tests).

Yes, he was in a union, and no it didn't protect him at all, because he wasn't yet tenured.

The myth of the all powerful teachers union is just that, a myth. The tenured teachers were punished severely for the problems of these low achieving (not special ed by the way) students. The form of punishment varies -- taking away upper level classes, making them teach problem students and severely learning disabled students who will not most likely graduate with a regular state diploma.

When I was in high school, it was accepted that some kids were top tier, others didn't try too hard, and the rest fell in the middle.

As a mother of a high school age child, I agree that success for the most part (in safe schools with decent programs) is up to the child. My son often underachieves, and I don't blame the teacher or myself. He's making a choice. He is offered every advantage and sometimes he chooses to ignore those advantages.

Simply put, you can't make someone want something when they just don't see the value at the time.

My daughter is in elementary school, where most of the experienced teachers have retired. We live in a top ranked school district on Long Island, and I find the elementary curriculum to be dumbed down and boring, mostly due to the NCLB testing.

There is little room for any creativity.

Atlmom has it all wrong; teachers care very much about educating their students.
Students and parents must care as well.
And, while unions want to protect jobs from pandering politicians, they most of all want to educate children.

It's very easy to sit back and take potshots, but really, that song is old and tired.

By the way, my brother is in a union -- the pilots union, and I rarely hear anyone disparaging pilots. I'm wondering if the hatred of teachers unions has more to do with sexism (most teachers are women) and anti-unionism than anything else.

Posted by: Kate | March 16, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

College kid, your example of teaching to the test, regarding the 5-paragraph model, is interesting. My response would be to teach students how to write, period, then teach them how to truncate or summarize in an essay when the situation arises. In other words, take a 2-page paper you've written and reduce it to a 5-paragraph essay. That way, students learn how to write papers, and they learn how to analyze, understand and reduce what they have written. This teaches reading comprehension, summarizing, and concise, clear and effective writing, as well as application of knowledge. They learn both the "traditional" way and the "test" way.

It sounds good to me. Can someone tell me why this wouldn't work?

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 16, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

As far as the sexism copout-please...most of the posters here are probably females anyways. Look around the DC area if you want to talk about sexism. How many female superintendents do we have? How many female high school principals? I am surprised the female teachers tolerate it. The reason they do is RETALIATION. School systems-especially FCPS- is known for retaliating against employees, parents or kids who question their authority. The PTAs are really not addressing the BIG problems in the schools-they are to occupied with selling wrapping paper. It is quite sad to see the lack of parental control in how we run our schools.

Posted by: not buying it | March 16, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey, college kid, that 5-paragraph model of writing has been around a LONG TIME before NCLB. In fact, if you're in college, I doubt you've been much affected by NCLB.

Anyway, so don't blame NCLB or any testing for the 5-paragraph model. I learned about it and how to do it and I never had to take any test that used that kind of model. It's just something they teach to get people to think about writing essay.

Posted by: Ryan | March 16, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

While I'm not a big fan of the standardized testing, I'm at a loss to come up with another system that allows us to compare performance across geographic and other demographic lines. I think that these tests are the price that the priveliged pay to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us get the minimum that they are entitled to. If someone can suggest a better way, I'm game.

Posted by: moxiemom | March 16, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

AnnR, I'd love to know exactly which bible you were reading when you came across the folk proverb regarding teaching men to fish. Part of my pre-NCLB education taught me to accurately site sources.

Posted by: DMM | March 16, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"A huge issue is that not many people want to teach, simply because it is not as valued a profession as it should be."

Although I agree that many of the qualified people don't want to teach, I'm not convinced it's because the profession is undervalued (and by undervalued I mean poorly paid). I hear from friends who are teachers that they start at $40 000 a year. Teachers get health benefits and retirement benefits, and often can start teaching jobs only a couple years after college. Let's say at age 25. I have a PhD. I made $15 000 a year for five years. I didn't make $40 000 until I was 34 and didn't get health benefits until I was 29. I have never had retirement benefits and am now 36. Similar trajectories are common on the PhD track. So by comparison, grade school teaching is quite lucrative, especially regarding retirement benefits, which accumulate over many years, (i.e. early access to a retirement program can add a lot of security). And yet I always hear teachers complaining that their pay is too low. I believe that this constant complaining misleads those who might be interested in a teaching career to reject it, because of the belief that it will lead to a life too hard. But in reality, having a union to look after you, and a pension, and tenure after one year, these are all nice features. And $40 000 a year looks like a nice salary to me, especially when they can start there in their mid-20s. If union leaders stopped talking about how awful their lives were and started talking about how teaching is a reasonably well-paid profession that allows them to have summers off and spend time with their own kids, maybe more highly qualified college graduates would choose to teach.

Posted by: m | March 16, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I learned about it and how to do it and I never had to take any test that used that kind of model.

I know the 5-paragraph model's been around forever, but as a result of testing, it's become more than just a springboard.

"It's just something they teach to get people to think about writing essay." It's becoming a template for how to write essays, as opposed to a starting point for contemplating expressing analysis in a focused and organized way. Literally, kids learn how to write these model essays, and it's get reinforced as opposed to broadened largely b/c of standardized testing.

Actually, I did experience stuff with NCLB when I was a junior. We had to use all of our class dues on incentives to get people to school to take the test. Teaching didn't get better. We did waste more time, and our schedules got screwed up by the testing. But it didn't improve anything. The money that was supposed to be for senior prom got spent on buying breakfast during test week as an incentive to drag kids to school for the tests.

Posted by: college kid | March 16, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

There are many research studies showing that students taught in a creative curriculum that is integrated with other subjects will produce higher test scores than rote learning courses. They also produce students who retain information for a much longer period of time. In addition, students who are weak in math and reading in later grades are usually victims of poor instructional methods or institutional habits: such as putting students into grade levels based on their age, assigned the hardest students to the newest teachers, locking into textbooks as a curriculum instead of students. When NCLB was passed, the requirement was for testing competency of students on an annual basis. NCLB does not dictate the type of test. States could have adopted a much more rigorous test, if they chose, and run the risk. The problems with NCLB are rooted deeply into traditions with schools that we all share because we all came through a similar experience.

Posted by: Been in schools a long time | March 16, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who agrees with FCPS in their effort not to test the ESOL kids should read the annual Minority Achievement Report they put out every year. It should be renamed the Minority Failure Report. The premier school system in the country, who spends, $13k per year on their students, fails in every catagory listed. The gap in test scores, the drop-out rates, the percentage of kids who take advanced courses, the number of minorities who attend TJ. FAILURE, FAILURE, FAILURE. It is an insult to these kids and our community for them to now say they don't want to test them.

If only these kids were not economically disadvantaged then they would have a voice. It is a disgrace.

Posted by: we must protect the weak | March 16, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Good teaching and effective learning may be like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography: Near-impossible to define, but we know it when we see it.

I dunno. I doubt we'd all agree.

Lawrence Cremin, a historian of education, used to cite an ancient Greek philosopher (I forgot which one)to explain why there's so much wrangling over what "good" education is. Education, both Cremin and the philosopher said, is tied closely to achievement of the good life, but our ideas of what "the good life" is differ sharply. Result: We (the public) can't agree on education matters.

What is the purpose of public education? To ensure we don't have total morons serving on juries? To guarantee every kid gets an upper-middle class type of job? To instill patriotism and "character" of some kind?

Posted by: edguy | March 16, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Thank goodness the end of the NCLB testing is near. This year, a new third-grade teacher at my sister's school was so stressed out before the school year even started, worrying about whether she could teach her kids to do well on the SOL testing. Note she did not worry about her ability to teach her kids. She was confident about that (and she has been very successful this year).

My sister asked me to help her get her classroom ready. My advice to calm the newbie down:

Your school passage rate is 87%. If just 1 out of 3 kids pass and you won't change, i.e. ruin, the school's scores. If only one kid in your class passes, the school will still pass.

Kind of ridiculous advice, huh? But it was true. She had the luxury of focusing first on her teaching skills and then on the SOLs because of where she taught. She wasn't a slacker, that is why she felt so much pressure during the second week of AUGUST.

Meanwhile, teach in a crappy, i.e. needy, school, and you are gambling with your career.

Posted by: Elem Vol w/o kids | March 16, 2007 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Teaching to the test can mean different things. It can mean something good, such as focusing on what is important rather than what is merely interesting.

It can mean something bad, such as laser beaming in on passing a test rather than learning the material, which are different things. I took a GRE prep course and the instruction for the math part recommended, in the interest of saving time, not solving the equations, but working the problems just enough to eliminate some of the answer choices presented.

I would like to see multiple choice questions eliminated from any sort of test, including for driver's licenses, as a measure of learning. They're almost worthless beyond making life easy for test graders.

Posted by: edguy | March 16, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

The goal of closing the achievement gap and tracking students' achievement levels through testing is terrific. The problem is how NCLB dictates success. The law makes each school accountable for the average test score of sub groups of kids in the school. At large, diverse high schools, there can be as many as 27 different groups, some with very few students (say 5) and if one of the students in that group of 5 is absent, sick or does poorly on the test, that group's average can be drastically affected. The law dictates that all the different groups must make the average score in order for the school to be in compliance with the goals for that year.

Here in Colorado, one of the best schools in the whole state is the one in my town, Boulder High. This school routinely scores near the top of all the school in Colorado. But it is a very diverse school. There's a huge number of foreign born students from all over the world. There are students who are poor and students that come from rich families. There is a large group of students that are handicapped, in some cases, severely. Boulder High made the grade in 25 out of 27 categories. It missed one because too many student's stayed away and didn't take the test. The other category was missed by 10th grade Spanish speakers in grade level reading. Boulder High "failed" the NCLB benchmarks while at the same time being in the "excellent" category for Colorado schools rating.

Posted by: sharon | March 16, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse


ESOL is not a different English class than regular students. ESOL kids get separate tutoring sessions during the school day. There are three students in my child's class who arrived "off the boat," speaking no English. They are in the regular classroom, except for the supplemental tutoring sessions. There are five other students who are considered ESOL students and received services, too.

As a result, my child's teacher, with one exception, has sent all of her first grade students on to second grade, knowing how to read. If you do not know, this is a MAJOR accomplishment in any school, and especially given that the teacher has taught students whose home language was one of nineteen different languages.

Posted by: 1GrMom | March 16, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Ryan does not know what he's talking about. Everyone should just ignore his posts. Anyone who knows anything about the field of education (first hand professional knowledge, I mean), knows that there is no one answer for all public schools, all students, all states, all demographics in America. This should not be the bailiwick of the federal government. NCLB needs to be scrapped. National testing and national standards are a good idea, but that's the only thing that should be nationalized so that all schools can be measured for performance and compared legitimately. Right now those statistics you read in this column are meaningless and hokey. The only reason the Bush administration supports NCLB is to hand public education over to private industry. The folks who contributed to his campaign are now reaping the rewards of taxpayer dollars - all the privatization is for one reason: political payback. As for these posts, one can easily determine those that are comments by folks who know nothing about education (except maybe have had a kid in school and some personal beef) and those that are based on real first hand experience and knowledge. The union, incidentally, does a lousy job of representing ALL teachers; it only represents some teachers, and then the teachers end up with a bad rap instead of the union, which should get the blame. Most of all, parents are not being held accountable and should be. Sadly, no matter how good a teacher is, some kids just will be left behind, either because of disabilities, poor parenting, lousy start in life, or bad influences. Even the worst teachers are better than no teachers in some locations because of the school environment - crime, violence, insubordination, laziness, drugs, etc. Ryan and others of his ilk who complain and complain about teachers, etc. ought to work in some of these schools. I'd like to see how long they last and what they think of "testing" after three months of that life.

Posted by: Mimi | March 16, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Be talented! or go to school!!

Posted by: amapola | March 16, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

m, I've never heard K-12 teachers who have gathered socially gripe about pay or benefits. They complain about stupid or tyrannical administrators. They criticize apathetic or rude or helicopter parents. And they grouse about the behavior of certain kids.

Of the ones in my experience who left teaching within five years of entering the profession, not one said low pay was the major motivation to leave. Unscientifically, the most common reason was dealing with horrible kids, followed closely by bad bosses, with unpleasant parents sometimes accompanying one of the other two.

Unhappy teachers and ex-teachers, I've observed, tend to speak of a sense of powerlessness even if they don't describe it directly as such. Powerless to change what kids do or don't do at home and powerless to show faceless setters of standards the huge variety of kids in one classroom. Some of these educators were whiners, but others seemed to have been harshly stripped of illusions and enthusiasm.

Not sure what level of pay, by itself, is supposed to fix that.

Posted by: edguy | March 16, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Bush us proposing a reformation of this bad law. The new program is called "no Child Right Behind".

Posted by: ProudDem | March 16, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Some of the rudest people I have ever met have been teachers and administrators. Most kids just want to be treated with respect and cared about. Most teachers who complain about a lack of respect from kids and parents don't know how to give it and that is why they are treated the way they are.

Posted by: truth be told | March 16, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Its an unrealistic assessment. Every child in a classroom is not going to get an "A."

Posted by: you should not have voted for bush | March 16, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

If it's all about the test, how about allowing students who pass it to receive a degree, no matter what age they pass it? I have no doubt that there are vast numbers of high-school freshmen who would be able to pass any reasonable test that you might expect every high-senior to pass. I'd put the number at 10 to 20%, perhaps even higher in wealthier jurisdictions. Perhaps these students should be allowed to simply opt-out of their final three years of high school. Wait a minute. They already are. It's called homeschooling.

Posted by: It's All About the Test | March 16, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"Some of the rudest people I have ever met have been teachers and administrators. Most kids just want to be treated with respect and cared about."

Both these statements are, at best, impossible to prove. In my experience (which is equally antecdotal, of course), neither of them are true.

Posted by: Nate | March 16, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I am a special education teacher who feels that NCLB is totally unfair to my students with learning disabilities. In order for a student to be labeled special ed they have to be achieving about 2 years below grade level. Now, the newer law NCLB states that these students have to be on grade level just like everyone else. Both of these unfunded federal mandates contradict each other. I have kids that try really hard and still get everything wrong. I also have kids that don't care what they get on a test that doesn't count toward their grade. Should I be judged a bad teacher?

Parents need to understand that teachers do not know the content that is going to be on the test ( in MD anyway), but that's not the part that makes teaching for this test difficult. The really bad part is that we never get to see how our students did. All we get is a numerical score. These tests fail to provide the most important part of teaching-- feedback to the teacher. What are the student's strengths and weakness? What do I, as their teacher, need to spend more time teaching and what have they mastered. The only way I can get this important information is to get quick results of the testing.

My school just sent 11 boxes of math tests down to Annapolis via FEDEX to be graded and we'll never know precisely how well our students have done. Standardized testing with no feedback and no student accountability via a grade or passing does not contribute to learning.

Posted by: skfoley | March 16, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I equate this NCLB debate with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. If Katrina hit Martha's Vineyard or The Hamptons rather than the dirt poor in New Orleans, there would not have been the lack of response and loss of life. The same is true of NCLB in that the accountability aspect of the law benefits the poor and minorities. This debate would not even occur if NCLB benefitted the wealthy. The silence on the issue would be deafening.

Posted by: reality check | March 16, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"In order for a student to be labeled special ed they have to be achieving about 2 years below grade level. "

Not true. The student's disability has to be significantly impacting success in the classroom, but I've never heard of the two years below grade level. I have a child who receives special services who reads and performs work at and above grade level.

"I have kids that try really hard and still get everything wrong. I also have kids that don't care what they get on a test that doesn't count toward their grade. Should I be judged a bad teacher?"

Not necessarily. But should the kids be judged as bad or unteachable students?

"What are the student's strengths and weakness? What do I, as their teacher, need to spend more time teaching and what have they mastered. The only way I can get this important information is to get quick results of the testing."

I understand. But shouldn't you already know this, as their teacher, at least in terms of what is being taught in the classroom?

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 16, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I am sorry to see that MD does not provide viable feedback from testing. In Virginia, you get feedback on the types of questions that students and groups had trouble answering. Sometimes the data are a little slow in getting back, but nonetheless, it is available. One of the most difficult areas for us, as educators, is to believe the data we do have. In pre-testing, we routinely see students who already exhibit mastery in 40-50% of the content, yet the curriculum and/or grouping continues to be the same for everyone that year in too many cases. NCLB has forced us to confront this kind of data, but it also forces us to come up with instant solutions. When you are dealing with adult behaviors, the changes can be difficult to achieve quickly. You could certainly fire everyone but teachers coming into the profession have been exposed to the same methods and expectations throughout their student career and we tend to do what we know. Changes under NCLB can be positive but may also be painful. While NCLB does have annual targets (and in Virginia, they increase by 3% per year until they reach 100% in 2014), those targets can be met in one of two ways: meet the established target rate or reduce your failure rate by 10% or the previous year's rate and hold your subgroup's other indicator above its mark. It can be a complicated formula, but as long as you continue to reduce your failure rate each year by 10% and hold your other indicator, you can proceed along in NCLB without sanction and still not have to reach 100% pass rates in 2014. Philosophically, NCLB is easy to embrace, but practically and making lots of changes, without a guarantee of success is a lot more difficult. My experience has been that panic and an emotionally filled response to change has yielded far less success than initiated changes, measuring results and re-tooling the plans.

Posted by: Been in schools a long time | March 16, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

To the original mom of 2:

How would you like to receive a job performance review of failing, and not be told what you did wrong, and what you can do to make improvements? Sounds like a sure-fire way to set up the situation to fail again the next year, since if you had known what you were doing wrong, you would have made different choices prior to the evaluation. What a silly post!

Posted by: TEL | March 16, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

"Part of my pre-NCLB education taught me to accurately site sources."

Author: You're not making a very good case for pre-NCLB education. You should have written "Part of my pre-NCLB education taught me to cite sources accurately."

That said, I'm not a NCLB fan. To me as a mother of a public school student, it means "No Child aLlowed aBove." The testing really creates a ceiling for learning, rather than a floor, and focuses teachers' attention on getting through the rote curriculum until the end of April, when testing occurs in our state.

And, there are even true stories of schools and school districts hiring Princeton Review to help teachers and students prepare for tests. Go figure that one out.

Let's move to another model where teachers are actually taught -- in teacher preparation programs and through thoughtful professional development throughout their careers -- to be creative in delivering course material, and also encouraged and rewarded for challenging their students to succeed to the extent of their abilities. The boring, predictable march throught the curriculum and mandatory testing of factoids are not going to get us as a nation where we want and need to be.

NCLB -- please go away.

Posted by: cranky today | March 16, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure I would bash the Soviet system. The literacy rate there is only .5% less than the U.S., and they did launch the first satellite before us. Remember Sputnik?

Even today, kids in Russia learn to read and write in cursive in the earliest grades (like grade 2), and begin algebra concepts in the earliest grades. BTW, they don't have erasers on their pencils in school, so kids learn to write beautifully without making mistakes.

So, be careful with your broad statements. Simple statements are inevitably simply wrong.

I'm not advocating Russia as a place to live. I've been there; no way. But just imagine if those young kids who actually do know how to read and write pretty well at young ages -- and have discipline to learn -- also had the economic and higher education advantages we have in the U.S. today. With our current educational system, we wouldn't stand a chance of competing.

Posted by: To ryip | March 16, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse

NCLB is based on a terrific principle: the idea that all kids can learn. But the way it's been implemented in many districts all over the country is sick. For instance, I teach in a wealthy area of Los Angeles. Most of our students have college-educated parents, although about a third of the kids are bussed in from other neighborhoods and do not have the same kind of early parental support. (Lots of their parents care just as deeply about education as the rich kids, but didn't read to them when they were young, speak Spanish at home, etc.) Our passing rate for both reading and math is well over 90%, because the base of highly prepared kids allows us to concentrate on the kids who really need help, and because the expectations are high in the whole school.

However, because we are part of LA Unified, we are required to use a reading program called Open Court. It is totally scripted; the teacher's edition literally tells us when to stop in the middle of a story and read a particular question aloud. Implementing this program correctly takes three to four hours a day. Therefore, we are expected to cut way down on teaching history and teach only the science that will be asked for on the state test (eliminating hands-on experiments and great history projects.) The result? Our kids are doing slightly worse on tests than they were before we started. They are bored with reading and hate the endless tests they are forced to take six times a year. We have to sneak in any whole books we read, because in a three-hour a day language arts curriculum, there's no time allotted for reading entire books, just excerpts!

Some schools in LA have seen their scores rise a lot after using this program for a couple of years. I'm all for the idea that whatever it takes to teach kids to read is what we need to do. But why are we forced into a one-size-fits-all kind of program? I'm fine with the idea of yearly testing, but not fine with the idea that we all have to teach our kids in the same way. I'm a dedicated, highly educated, hard-working and successful teacher, as are most of my colleagues. We should be given the standards and told to teach them in whatever way works best for our particular kids. What we have now is deadening for teachers and students alike.

In brief: yes to clear standards; no to strong-armed tactics that tell us how to teach these standards.

Posted by: nora | March 16, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Go Nora!!

She is a voice of a committed, experienced, expert teacher. Why don't policymakers listen to teachers like her -- who we desperately need to keep in the classroom!!!

Instead, they defer to the politically powerful. As for Open Court, well, see for yourself...

Posted by: cranky today | March 16, 2007 5:47 PM | Report abuse

No Child Left Behind could as easily be called, "My child left behind".

My older son is 14, and started high school with his age group this year. He's also high-functioning autistic, and we have the incredible good fortune to have a cutting-edge program in our school district for Aspergers Syndrome/High-functioning Autism.

The staff and contractors working with these kids are so nuturing, dedicated, and supportive of the kids and families, that we've been able to find ways around the challenges of testing for our kids. Adaptations for each kid's individual needs are a core part of our program.

Our kids don't "get" testing at all. Many of them have extraordinary gifts, most notably musical, but in other areas as well. But because of their disabilites, many will test as delayed or even that banned-from-the-lexicon word: "retarded", some severely, like my son.

Once you get to know him, you'd be amazed at how bright and aware my son is. Last week end while visiting my parents, he brought tears to everyone's eyes by singing 'What a Wonderful Life' by Louis Armstrong.

To base his education, and judge the success or failure of our school system, on his standardized test results is to ignore his abilities, and condemn our school system on the basis of his disability.

That's not fair. To anyone.

Oh, yeah. My school district is Oakland, CA. Currently under state control - and the largest finacial bail-out in history. But that's another story.

Posted by: Sue | March 16, 2007 6:09 PM | Report abuse

"To the original mom of 2:
How would you like to receive a job performance review of failing, and not be told what you did wrong, and what you can do to make improvements? Sounds like a sure-fire way to set up the situation to fail again the next year, since if you had known what you were doing wrong, you would have made different choices prior to the evaluation. What a silly post!"

Hmmm. So a test result is a job performance review for you? Who is your boss in that scenario? Or do you mean you receive a failing performance review from your principal with no explanations? What exactly DO you mean? And MY post is silly, eh? Well, I stand by it.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 16, 2007 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Original mom, I think you misunderstood. My gripe is that instead of learning to write papers, they're learning to just use the 5-paragraph template. As Ryan pointed out it's used to teach kids about writing essays. But instead of a springboard, it becomes a standard way of composing, so kids don't learn to write, and realize sometimes you will need 3 or 4 paragraphs. Other times you'll need eight or nine paragraphs.

The problem for starters, time constraints, and the feet to the fire stuff with tests. When their feet are held to the fire and a 5-paragraph is acceptable, it's what they'll teach.

Posted by: college kid | March 16, 2007 11:51 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I can only say that NCLB is a disastrous abomination.

Many of the posts refer to ensuring that all students are all taught in the same way, and receive the same information regardless of ethnic, financial difference. Nothing could be further removed from the good teaching practices.

Good teaching involves a pallette of skills, techniques, demonstrations, activities, and - yes - lectures. Kids learn in different ways. A good teacher will find a method to reach each individual kid.

My wife (also a teacher) and I recently stayed at a bed and breakfast where we found ourselves seated at the breakfast table with several investment banker business types. They were all strong advocates for NCLB - without knowing much about it. I finally offered them this scenario. Last year you managed a portfolio that had a net gain of 19%. This year your supervisor tells you to meet the same goal, or improve on the previous year's performance. Ther only thing is that he was going to give you a portfolio containing a totally different group of stocks and bonds. How would you respond?

This was met with stunned silence. An epiphany ocurred. Finally, the only response was shared: I never thought about it like that.

Well, think about it.

Posted by: Garyoke | March 17, 2007 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I love the way I'm told I don't know what I'm talking about when it's clear that some of you are confusing NCLB with the way your specific state or school district or even school is implementing it.

First, NCLB does not set a specific test that kids must take. Each state comes up with its own tests of reading and math proficiency. If you're unhappy with the test, don't blame NCLB. Blame your state.

Second, it is silly to compare kids hitting adequate yearly progresss (AYP) with gains in a mutual fund. The idea is that all kids at the end of a school year should be able to read and do math appropriate with that school year. In other words, 4th graders should be able to read and do math at a fourth grade level by the end of the year. This is not a crazy thought and I find it terrible that some of you think it is acceptable to have large percentages of kids NOT reading or doing math at that level by the end of the year. The fact that NCLB allows schools to show AYP is a gift to schools -- essentially, NCLB is giving them several years to meet the basic standards. This year, a school can hit 40%. Next year, they have to hit 45% or whatever. In reality, I don't see why any school should not have nearly all its kids reading at the appropriate level (excluding kids with disabilities, of course).

Third, NCLB does not require that teachers be punished for kids not meeting the proficiency standards. In fact, there are numerous ways that schools are allowed to change in order to meet proficiency standards. Removing sub-par teachers is just one way. The idea is to force school districts to change to make sure kids are learning. They can lengthen the school day or school year, restructure the school, etc.

What I do not hear from some of you who think I know nothing is exactly how you can defend the culture of acceptance of poor education for these students. This is not a criticism of teachers at all but rather a criticism of how we, as a society, have tolerated kids learning so little, particularly in the core areas of reading and math. If this requires more money poured into the school systems to lengthen the school year, then so be it. But we must not allow kids, particuarly so many minority and inner-city kids, to achieve so little during their education. This only perpetuates the cycle of poverty and lack of regard for education that persists in so many minority and inner-city communities.

Posted by: Ryan | March 17, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Just to reiterate something, if you or someone you know is a teacher and feels like you are being punished for your class not meeting standards, that is NOT NCLB's fault. Assuming you are a good teach, that is your school district or your school itself taking out its frustrations on you. The reality is that NCLB forces school districts to be accountable for how their schools do. When a school does poorly, these districts may blame the teachers in the school, for which I feel sorry for you. Clearly, these school districts have problems -- not the teachers. Just check out D.C. schools and read Colbert King's articles about the dilapidated nature of the schools and you'll see what I mean.

It is unfortunate that teachers often get unfairly caught in the crossfire, but again, this is not the fault of NCLB. Perhaps with these kids who come from families where education is undervalued, we need to try something different from the standard 5-6 hour school day for 180 days a year. The KIPP schools provide an excellent model for how we can transform these kids into super-learners. I believe, and I hope, that NCLB will force more schools to undergo radical changes that will help such kids. These changes may not be necessary for our wealthy, white, suburban schools, but it's time we do something about the kids who don't fit that mold.

Posted by: Ryan | March 17, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

As a parent of a highly competent/gifted second grader, I truly do not look forward to his third grade.

I have no faith in either VA's S--- Outta Luck's or the Every Child Left Behind.

It is all Stick and no Carrot for schools. In the meantime... and I stress MEAN... the lowest common denominator surges ever lower.

Yes, our educational system(s) need work. But why is it that the same individuals who push for onerous testing are the same types who give us the Education Dept. of Kansastan?

Posted by: Fritz the Mondale | March 17, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

College kid, I didn't misunderstand you. I understand the detriment of what you said was being taught. What I was suggesting was a solution, which is to teach students to write, period, including the 5-paragraph model. Teaching only a 5-paragraph model and nothing else just because of a test is wrong.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 17, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Informal poll of the board: Can anyone name a major problem for U.S. schools, not counting bad infrastructure and ESL students, that isn't related to poverty?

Granted there are exceptions, but it seems like low family income is the major predictor of low academic performance. There's a world of difference between teaching a class about (actual example) the ocean when most of the students have visited the beach (a three hour drive from the school) and teaching a class of poorer kids, NONE of whom have seen the beach and for whom the ocean exists only in their heads.

I'd like to advance for discussion the notion that ideas about school accountability, testing and so forth that don't consider poverty are ignoring the elephant in the room.

All of this talk about NCLB = good/bad without acknowledging that schools do pretty well with the upper 25 percent of student performers and just horribly with the bottom income quarter seems a little pointless. It seems like arguing the merits of yoga v. pilates while overlooking the five daily pizzas the obese person in question consumes.

Posted by: edguy | March 17, 2007 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Ryan, the stock portfolio analogy isn't a bad one.

No one is arguing for lower standards for students or that there should not be some "Thou shalt go no lower" baseline.

But schools don't have a major advantage businesses have -- brokerage firms, supermarkets, whatever. Businesses can change suppliers. If a restaurant owner doesn't like the beef he's been getting, he can find another vendor.

Schools have one vendor: Parents who happen to live in the district. Schools can spend 13 years playing catch-up with kids who can be incredibly far behind their classmates by the time they enter kindergarten or first grade.

If businesses had to operate under the same rules as public schools, the Papa John's slogan would be "Decent pizza considering we don't control the ingredients."

Almost no organization besides public schools has to operate this way. What standard of excellence would, say, the Marine Corps or a medical school be able to maintain if it had to accept all applicants?

This is not meant to excuse bad schools or to throw a pity party for teachers. It is, however, somewhat unfair to lay all blame for poor products on factory managers who aren't allowed control over the entire manufacturing process.

Posted by: edguy | March 17, 2007 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and not just accept all applicants, but keep them until the end of their enlistments or until they got an MD.

Posted by: edguy | March 17, 2007 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I acknowledge that the same school system can work well for middle-class kids yet not very well for kids whose families may put little value on education or not have the resources for supporting the love of learning at home.

HOWEVER, it is absolutely wrong to assume that the kids themselves are incapable of learning due to their home lives. If you ever read Jay Mathews on the Post, you'll see his constant mentioning of KIPP schools, which are located in inner cities and take on the kind of kids who do so poorly in traditional public schools. The KIPP schools do wonders with these kids and prove that, with an intensive restructuring of how schools work such kids, all kids can learn.

The problem is that no one wants to talk about what needs to be changed in the schools to help such kids achieve. It requires much more than what is needed for middle-class, white, suburban kids. The KIPP schools have much longer school days (and may have longer school years, though I don't remember). These longer days allow for closer teacher-student interaction and allow the kids to get their homework done at school where they have the resources to help them get through it.

As I said, these kinds of changes require more resources, but it is about time that we devote the resources to creating true equal opportunity in this country -- to breaking the cycle of poverty, crime, and lack of education by striking at the one part that we can control: the kids' education.

And, FYI, the stock portfolio is a bad analogy and here's why. The returns on a portfolio can always go up and, therefore, having expectations of it always going up is possible (though perhaps unreasonable). On the other hand, with kids, we don't expect there to be more than 100% success -- i.e. only 100% of kids can be proficient on the test. The idea that it's unreasonable to expect a school to go from 50% proficiency to 60% proficiency is absurd. In fact, I find it unconscionable that we allow any % to not meet the basic standards of reading and math. Moreover, the change in stock portfolio value is an increase over a current amount that will eventually develop a J-curve due to compound interest. As I said, we're not looking for infinite gains in reading and math proficiency -- we're simply looking for everyone to read and do math at the appropriate level.

Please try thinking about this analogy and why it's so horrible to think that it's OK that we have schools where 50% of a grade does not read or do math at the appropriate level.

Posted by: Ryan | March 17, 2007 9:15 PM | Report abuse

No Child Left Behind is an attempt to identify, then address the income and/or achievement gap in our schools. Am NOT a fan of GWBush but I do admire him for this effort. Narrowing the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of the twenty-first century. NCLB can and should make a difference. The legislation simply prohibits school districts from neglecting the most at-risk populations in our schools. It demands accountability for ALL groups. NCLB is not the Republicans' attempt to eliminate public schools. I do believe, however, it's a formal attempt at eliminating the teachers union's monopoly of educating America's children. As a recently retired teacher I would contend, that's a good thing. Teacher unions are more interested in exercising their control and power in federal and state politics than in maximizing learning in our schools. Back to NCLB: most teachers and most schools are doing the best they can. Progress in our schools has been made in the last two decades, much progress. The most significant hurdle in our shools today; dysfunctional homes/parents. Bill Cosby is on target. Minority kids need to better prioritize their lives. VH1, MTV, and the NBA are not a good direction, unless you're one of the performers making millions off its viwers. Go to any prison in America and try to educate the inmates. That's essentially the clientele many urban schools are dealing with today. It's not an easy job. What's the best approach? A homogeneous population would eliminate many of the problems but this is America. That's never going to happen in this country. E pluribus unum, remember? From many, one. That's the creed that's made this country great. Welfare reform was a good start. Massive doses of social services can help some. Big money, correctly spent can also help. The problem is never going to be completely solved. All students are not going to be "proficient" in math and reading by 2014 as the original legislation mandated. As long as we're headed in the right direction , and I belive we are, NCLB is doing what it was designed to do: initiate a serious national dialogue on the importance of education and our schools.

Posted by: Barry | March 17, 2007 10:40 PM | Report abuse

The question is not whether or not all kids can learn. They can. The question is whether it is reasonable to expect all kids to reach the same level, regardless of their starting point.

If students were runners, it would be fine to expect all to be able to run a mile. It would be whacko to cast blame if all did not qualify for the Olympics.

While not perfect, the original stock analogy works because the issue was not whether the prices of the stocks would rise, but whether a manager could reasonably be expected to have a super high performance (19% in the example) if the manager didn't have control over what stocks went into the portfolio.

No one has said adequacy is too much to ask, only that making excellence the norm is just about a guarantee that schools and teachers will be defined as "failures" more often.

Posted by: Ryan reply | March 18, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

To "Ryan reply" (hey, next time, use a name):
Nobody is talking about "excellence" -- just proficiency. It's called meeting the basic standards and, yes, all kids within a grade should meet them by the end of the year. If they don't, things need to be changed at the school. Or, if it's a small percentage of kids, they need additional help. But we have to leave behind the idea that kids can keep advancing despite their lack of proficiency at reading and math. Moreover, we have to stop letting school districts off the hook when they allow large swaths of poorer, minority students to not reach that proficiency.

And, no, the stock analogy does not work because having all your kids learn is the STANDARD. It's the baseline. Having outrageous gains (19%) is not comparable to the standard.

Posted by: Ryan | March 18, 2007 7:40 PM | Report abuse

The stock analogy does work when referring to the vague but evidently unreachable standards held by many school critics. "India is outpacing the United States," they shout. "Our kids aren't prepared for the 21st century," they write to the editor. (Whatever that means.) The critics warn that schools don't provide enough music/technology/character education or whatever else is dear their idiosyncratic hearts.

The stock comparison may not work if we view schools as meat inspectors. No number of spoiled steaks or uneducated kids is acceptable to pass through the doors. The stock analogy works fine if one sees schools as chefs whose steaks are not only expected to be "not spoiled" but superb.

Schools get slapped by both kinds of critics - those who see educators as meat inspectors and those who see them as chefs.

The very name of NCLB, if we narrow the conversation to that, indicates its authors are of the meat inspector school of thought.

Posted by: Nope | March 18, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

We may not disagree as much as the earlier exchanges may seem to suggest.

Of course there should be minimum standards. Of course they should be enforced and unquestionably heads should roll if they aren't. I'm tired of meeting high school graduates who can't make basic change or have never considered why July 4 is an American holiday. (I don't mean they can't discuss the Constitutional Convention in detail. I mean it never entered their heads to wonder what the deal with the fireworks and the flags was about.)

However, I am regularly impressed with the intellect and curiosity of a lot of kids the same age.

That said, it's hard for schools to serve on a national scale as both remedial institutions and as mentors to the gifted -as they're supposed to do now. Reaching those goals require different structures.

I do not propose a solution, but do suggest the American egalitarian ideal is sometimes at odds with the reality of members of diverse school populations requiring different approaches. I know no organization other than a public school that is so nearly called to be everything to everybody.

Posted by: Reply to Ryan | March 18, 2007 9:14 PM | Report abuse

And, that, Mr. Nope (or is it Ms.?), is exactly my point. NCLB does not expect anything more than what any decent citizen would expect of its schools.

NCLB asks states to come up with tests that the states expect ALL kids in a grade level to pass. That is, the tests cover material that we believe that kids in a particular should learn. Then, NCLB asks states to administer those tests and MAKE SURE that everyone actually passes the test. NCLB does not allow states to hide their poorer, minority students' scores (which are usually lower) behind their wealthier, white students' scores.

To me, what NCLB asks of our school systems is nothing extraordinary, unless you consider 4th graders reading at a 4th grade level to be some sort of extraordinary accomplishment.

Moreover, NCLB allows states to come up with the tests. To me, that says that states could rig the system if they wanted to. Despite this fox-guarding-the-hen-house aspect to NCLB, people are STILL complaining about getting all their kids to pass these tests. From this, am I supposed to infer that our schools were doing an even worse job than I thought?

Posted by: Ryan | March 18, 2007 9:15 PM | Report abuse

But, Reply to Ryan (why can't you just use a name?), you're wrong about schools having to serve "as both remedial institutions and as mentors to the gifted". If we truly implement NCLB and don't let kids advance in grade levels without learning the material, there will be no "remedial" aspect to their instructions.

If we start at kindergarten or pre-K and make sure that, by the end of the year, all kids have learned what they need to learn, they'll be ready for the next year.

You are right, however, that different kids will require different approaches. As NCLB suggests and as I have repeatedly said (though no one ever bothers to listen), schools can take a variety of actions to improve their students' performances, such as longer school days and years and the use of tutoring for certain kids. This may be quite necessary for kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds of any kind (e.g. poor, uneducated parents or parents who don't speak English or parents who aren't even around, let alone supportive of education).

KIPP schools have these longer days (much longer, in fact) and longer years and they make great use of this extra time. The kids show tremendous achievement, particularly in comparison to traditional public school counterparts.

The greatest danger we now face is a complete gutting of NCLB, essentially allowing schools to go back to the days when not all kids had to pass these basic proficiency tests. Just read the Washington Post editorial page from Saturday.

Posted by: Ryan | March 18, 2007 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I had kids in public school before NCLB and still have kids in school. Public school is more subject to trends in instruction and politics. FCPS starts ESL in grade 1 officilly and does not do phonics. At many schools kids learn to read by osmosis and yhe kindergarten curriculum is lower than many private pre-k programs. This school system stinks and the reasons parenst used to desperate got GT and TJ directly relates to the garbage at the base schools. Now base schools are improving but high schools are sketchy. None of these state,ents are true universally since each FCPS has site based management and it is pur luck from year to year as to the education of a child. A Clusster Ass.t Supt was at a elementaryt PTA meeting once and apparently heard some complaints about the school. She said do not worry what they miss this year the will get another year. Dumb. Kids in grade 1 and 2 need to read. That school has high test scores but overall it is the parents.

Posted by: disgusted | March 19, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

FCPS is a black hole for people in FX county. I am ready for a taxation without representation bumper sticker pertaining to FCPS.

Posted by: disgusted | March 19, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Schools are expected to serve both the gifted and the remedial because they have both kinds of students, and those in between.

The IDEA of all kids being at grade level by kindergarten is great, but realistically the only way an organization makes sure absolutely no one ever fails within a certain time period is to set the bar unacceptably low.

If your main objection is to "social promotion," you'll find few defenders for it in theory. But right now teachers and administrators get blamed for 1. Students who aren't up to speed by May, and 2. Holding students back because they weren't up to speed.

The notion that if a child's performance is at grade level in kindergarten, that a poor home life is mitigated at that point, is false. Poor home lives exert a continual drag on a student's academic career.

Learning is a collaborative effort between student and teacher. We all know what teachers are responsible for.

At what point does public policy say, "Mr./Ms. Student, this is YOUR fault. Your teachers have done all they can"?

Granted, ALL teachers have never done ALL they can. But in an imaginary world, with perfect teachers and limitless resources, what responsibility for learning is society willing to lay at the feet of the student? And at what age? I don't think we should ever write off 6-year-olds.

Tutoring helps only those willing to go to it and often those who need it most are also the most unwilling. And why have longer days or longer school years for those students who don't require it?

The basic dilemma: How do we have standards that guarantee a degree of fairness because everyone has to meet them while also saying students bear no responsiblility for meeting them? And without dumbing down the standards until they're worthless?

Posted by: Fake name - Happy now? | March 19, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I don't have time to read all the comments and overall I think NCLB is kind of a waste. I never believe that standardized testing at any level promotes critical thinking skills. But like moxiemom, I am not sure of a better alternative. But what I am most stuck on is the accountability that some posters feel teachers have. A teacher can not make your child something he or she is not. A teacher can not take someone with no background in English, proficient in English in one year. A teacher is not a miracle worker. To be honest, if you look at test scores across income lines, you will find that income plays a bigger role in educational test scores then IQ or teachers. So why all this disrespect for public school teachers? If you think you can do a better job, why don't you home school? More likely, people like to complain and not do anything about it. DD is in public preschool and they have done wonders with her. But we do our part too. We take their suggestions and try to implement them at home. We offer a learning inducive enviroment. We are involved and concerned parents. But not everyone comes from a family that cares as much as we do. And frankly if DD does not go to Harvard, it isn't because FCPS failed her. It is probably wasn't meant to be.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 19, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I think an issue that is underlying all this is that the literacy and numeracy of the parents is essential to a kid's success in school. If the parents are illiterate, and the child thus arrives at school having never been exposed to various words and sentence structures by age 5, then it's almost impossible for the school to compensate. People seem to make a big deal of the parents' role in creating a learning-friendly environment at home, but I wonder if the parents, no matter how enthusiastic, can be effective when they themselves have only a fourth-grade reading level, or when they barely speak any english.

I wonder, therefore, if more effort and funding should be focused on helping the parents improve their own literacy and numeracy. For example, through book clubs, seminars, and teaching programs that are accessible primarily to lower-income or to non-english-speaking parents.

Posted by: m | March 20, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

If anyone is interested in reading some more about KIPP schools, please check out this link:

My point that I have tried to make over and over is that these kids, which many of you have implied can't achieve, CAN achieve when the proper effort is put into it. KIPP demonstrates that.

Posted by: Ryan | March 20, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Two things: First, regarding ESOL - My parents, too, came to the U.S. as immigrants with little English, and were tossed, "sink or swim," into the school system. They learned English lickety split and ended up at the top of their classes.

However, I wager that "sink or swim" is unfair to many immigrants in cases where the parents are barely literate, where the home life is not conducive to intellectual interaction (in any language), or when communities of non-English-speaking children make up a large percentage of the student body. This is a whole different ball game, and the odds are, they'd sink, not swim. So I vote in favor of ESOL.

Second item: I don't know about Russia, but in Hungary (where my kids are now enrolled in elementary school) I can say that the teachers' expectations are high; every child has to work hard; neatness counts; and - yes - they introduce algebraic concepts very early, but (amazing!) the kids can handle it (they haven't been told, apparently, that they aren't supposed to encounter variables until the ninth grade like I did.) I think a lot depends on the parents' expectations back home. For better or worse, most parents here do hold their children's feet to the fire, and in most cases consider the teacher their ally in getting their sloppy, daydreaming, dawdling 7-year-old to sit still, pay attention, write neatly, and complete all the homework. It may not work for everyone, but it works for most. (And since school is out by 1 pm, then the kid is free to spend most of the afternoon futzing around.)

Posted by: Kac | March 21, 2007 5:19 AM | Report abuse

While I don't believe there is one universal test that can be used for all students, the concept of testing is a STANDARD part of the educational experience. Unfortunately, not all students and adults for that matter study to educate themselves, rather they study to achieve some sort of goal. Being a contributing member of our society requires us all to achieve milestones and tests every day of our lives. While it's important that school educates us, it should also teach us how to achieve on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Teachers have always taught so that students could pass tests, but somewhere along the line neurotic, well-to-do parents all began to believe their children shouldn't be limited by tests so the cultures in schools made it that with enough new age thinking we can all be A students. That thinking has allowed c students to get a's and f students to get c's with no one accountable for what those grades mean. SOL's are necessary to measure performance and while they are not perfect doing away with this does nothing but let our teachers, administrators and students off the hook.

Posted by: Jeff | March 26, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company