Wednesday, November 30, 2005

No Child Left Behind is better than nothing in education

This great article is written by a retired school teacher. It is great to see that she understands the problems of our public education system which include the teachers' unions and lack of accountability. Bravo Johanna Haver.

No Child Left Behind is better than nothing in education

Nov. 29, 2005 12:00 AM
Some highly reputable Valley teachers have complained to me that the federal government has wreaked havoc upon their schools with its No Child Left Behind mandate.

To them, the time taken from the classroom for teacher training is counterproductive and the imposition of uniform teaching techniques on them destroys creativity. They told me of a case where an entire school that had been labeled "underperforming" was forced to make questionable changes when a problem existed in only one specific area.

Recently Superintendent John Baracy of the Scottsdale Unified School District remarked to me that the No Child Left Behind law "levels the playing field." As someone with years of experience running inner-city schools, Baracy has dealt with the challenges of educating "at-risk" students. He is well aware of the enormous achievement gap that exists between the children who come from middle-class to affluent homes and those from underprivileged backgrounds.

Like the teachers, Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, is not satisfied with the law, which he says contains "144 ways for schools to fail." He considers the state program, Arizona Learns, to be "more comprehensive and fair." He has made several requests to the federal authorities to have aspects of No Child Left Behind's adequate yearly progress requirements adjusted so they fit better with Arizona schools.

The federal government began its quest to solve the achievement problem with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This provided a slew of programs for failing students and cost billions of dollars, but contained little oversight. Forty years later there is no evidence that these programs were even minimally successful. No Child Left Behind differs from the 1965 law in that it holds schools accountable.

Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind does not address other obstacles to school improvement. These include court decisions dating to 1969 that limit schools' disciplinary and dress policies, the teachers unions' protection of incompetent teachers and the education colleges' tendency to promote less-than-rigorous classroom instruction.

In the meantime, according to School Reform News (April 2005), an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that parochial schools are doing a better job than public ones in educating underprivileged students. Moreover, these schools spend considerably less money than public ones.

Parochial schools have some advantages: (1) broad authority over how students look and behave in school; (2) the freedom to hire and fire teachers according to merit rather than seniority; and (3) independence from the colleges of education.

It is a pipe dream to believe that the court decisions that have undermined discipline in our public schools will ever be reversed. The recent election in California indicates that even someone as powerful as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is no match against the teachers unions and, thus, they will continue to reign. Colleges of education will also survive due to the large revenues they bring into the universities from teachers who must take their courses to maintain their teaching certificates.

Whether teachers like it or not, due to default, No Child Left Behind is all we have left to improve unacceptable achievement rates in our public schools.

Johanna Haver is a retired Arizona teacher and author of the book "Structured English Immersion: A Step-by-Step Guide for K-6 Teachers and Administrators" (Corwin Press, 2003). She can be reached at

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