Some Children Left Behind

12 Feb

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years. ~Jacques Barzun

Washington let us know that most states are interested in getting a waiver to the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) law that was forcing school districts to face impossible academic challenges. I applaud the measure for two important reasons: 1) The NCLB clause that demanded 100% proficiency on state testing by 2014 was simply ridiculous. As a special education teacher, I know firsthand how much pressure this placed on schools; there are always some students who simply cannot deal with the rigors of the academic world; they possess a low level of intelligence or come from a troubled family background which prevents them from focusing on school. 2) Our Constitution clearly states that education is the prerogative of States, not Washington. The fact that school districts receive federal funding should not turn into a  blackmail tool in the hands of out-of-touch bureaucrats.

  President Bush signing the NCLB act

The NCLB law was a well-intentioned proposition aimed at improving our public schools system. However, as happens so often with politicians, adequate funding to reach its ambitious goals has never materialized; before some of my readers start sharpening their pens to rebuke my notion that more money will  solve education’s problems, allow me to remind them of the recent severe cuts in school districts’ budgets all across the nation which resulted in larger classes and fewer teachers. My high school students do not have access to the latest technology such as laptops and iPads, large screen monitors in the classroom, modern computers and their technical support, adequate restrooms, smaller classes (no more than 20 students is recommended), and well-equipped labs for science.  Where would the money come from? A slight increase in school taxes should be allowed and most of our foreign aid billions should be applied here, in America, to modernize our schools and pay their teachers a much better salary.

Better teachers, and I fully agree that some unions are a hindrance to getting rid of bad teachers, can be obtained if we start asking for help from the private sector; granted that we cannot pay highly qualified professionals the same salary they can get in their industry. Science subjects in particular suffer from a lack of well-qualified teachers who can find much more lucrative jobs outside education. However, many would jump at the chance to impart seminars to high school students with the consent of their employers. The States should grant waivers or special certificates to outstanding professionals to allow them to teach part-time in public schools. Exposing our teens to scientists and engineers with a proven record in their profession would no doubt motivate many youngsters to follow in their footsteps; we could even tap into the forgotten well of retired professionals, many of whom would jump at the chance to work as special advisers to science and math teachers for a small compensation. Alas, too many rules and regulations prevent this idea from becoming reality. But our politicians have the power to change that.

Meanwhile, let us forget the Utopian idea that 100% of children in public schools can achieve 100% proficiency by 2014; some of them will inevitably be left behind due to their severe disabilities, no matter how hard we try to mainstream them. Let us concentrate on what we can do by giving our students the tools they need.

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