The futility of "No Child Left Behind" was never more apparent to me than when I was listening to a speaker from the Children's Center during a teacher in-service at South Middle School Friday.
President Bush acts as if all problems with education are going to be miraculously served by this program. The Democrats act as if the program is not going to work unless an incredible amount of money is poured into it.
Both sides are dead wrong.
Under the guidelines of "No Child Left Behind," each year a greater number of students will master mathematics and reading until in the year 2014 all students will be required to do so.
It's a laudable goal, but it is a goal that is impossible to achieve.
The underlying premise of "No Child Left Behind" is that the public education system has failed America. While there is no doubt that the system can be improved, in some places greatly, the educational system is far from the only reason that children are being left behind.
Some statistics furnished by the Children's Center provide an explanation as to what other forces come into play. Between 1997 and 2004, 657 children in this area have gone through the center having been physically or sexually abused. Those are just the ones which have gone through Children's Center. Imagine the number of children who never receive any help. Some of them do succeed, but how many will never be able to escape the cycle of abuse and will recycle it generation after generation?
Even when the workers at the center, or teachers, or clergymen, or others are able to discover the problem, how many times are their efforts blocked or at least slowed down by the Family Services bureaucracy. The speaker told of times when one DFS worker would say that nothing could be done, but another phone call placed when that worker is off duty would result in a visit.
Children are exposed to parents who have serious drug problems and who are unable to take care of themselves, much less their children. This is a societal problem, not just an educational problem, and it is one that the major parties have not addressed during this campaign season.
How many parents are not there when their children get home from school in the afternoon, because they have to work two jobs to make ends meet? That number appears destined to increase with so many jobs being eliminated and outsourced and replaced with lower-paying jobs. That is not just a problem of the educational system.
"No Child Left Behind" mandates that scores will increase for children who live in extreme poverty. We have always worked to help these children succeed, but how can we get positive results when the underlying reason for their poverty still exists. This has not been addressed in the presidential campaign.
How can educational professionals deal with the ever-increasing amount of emotional problems children face when their parents divorce? We are being asked to handle serious emotional problems, work these children into the fabric of the classroom, and not miss a beat, while continuing to improve standardized test scores.
An article in one of the educational magazines that I was reading last night also detailed the decreasing amount of time teachers can spend on preparing for classes because they are handling paperwork brought on by federal and state education departments, as well as documentation needed to stave off the growing number of lawsuits being filed by parents who make no effort to go through the system to resolve problems, but automatically head for lawyers in efforts to get rich quickly.
Educators have also seen an increasing number of behavioral problems caused by homes in which the students have no support network. When the students fail to make the grade at school, teachers find that many times the parents don't care, or blame the teachers and the schools for the problems.
In the past, when children got into trouble at school, that was nothing compared to the trouble they were going to receive at home. Parents supported the teachers and the school. In many cases, it is still like that. But teachers are seeing more and more instances where parents are standing in the way of their children receiving a quality education.
How can you get through to children about the need for a quality education when their parents don't see that need? You have some who would not even send their children to school if they were not required to do so by law.
Too many obstacles stand in the way of "No Child Left Behind" for it to ever be the smashing success President Bush and other supporters of the act envision. When you have an entire support system that is broken, don't expect public education to perform miracles.
The concept of "No Child Left Behind" is an insult to teachers and other education professionals. I have never met anyone who said, "Let's leave these children behind." Teachers, at least the good ones, agonize over the children who fall behind and pray that someone will be able to reach them and help them to succeed. Our goal has always been to leave no child behind. We never needed President Bush or any of the act's other supporters to tell us that.
The education system is far from perfect, but it is a reflection of our society. Make No Child Left Behind a goal instead of a mandate and include the other challenges that must be met...poverty, jobs, broken families, physical and sexual abuse of children, and other problems. That is the only way we will ever be able to ensure that no child is left behind.