“No child left behind” will leave them all behind

Those of us who grew up and received our secondary education in the fifties and early sixties watched as our schools very often changed overnight.

In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik. Quickly, in schools across the U.S. blank science classroom walls were covered with the Periodic Tables. Chemistry books were shoved under our noses. But chemistry books were scarce everyone needed them. There weren't enough to be had, so some of us did without. We went from studying how to condense water, to its atomic structure.

In 1960, the U.S. was outmedaled by Russia in the summer Olympics and the young, vibrant and athletic John Kennedy was elected president.

It was decided that we had lost the Olympic medal race because America's youth was soft. All of a sudden, in our gymnasiums there appeared parallel bars, medicine balls and a trampoline. Not one coach we had in the Keyes school system knew how to use them; but we had them just the same.

Now, in 2005, President Bush wants in his words, “No child left behind.”

America's children, from state to state, are now inundated throughout their secondary careers with standardized tests; be they elementary students or juniors preparing for their senior year. Quite often the teachers' salaries are dependent on how the students perform on such tests. So what happens? With their livelihood at risk, teachers and schools, teach to the test.

Now, the president wants each student tested each year grades 3 to 11. He wants to give the states another monetary carrot; $250 million to require that the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress be administered every two years in every school in every state.

By the time I was a senior, in 1963, students were supposed to be able to solve algebraic equations with a slide rule; an instrument I'd only seen used in the movies. From my freshman to senior years, I was lost in the maze of science and math and was having problems knowing how to diagram a sentence for English. The only real standardized tests we had to take 40 years ago were those required if we were planning on going to college; there was, (I believe), the ASVAB, given by the Armed Forces, and the ACT, among others.

I had consistently placed in the bottom one-third of my high school classes. On the college entrance exams, I placed third in my class. I cannot explain why I couldn't grasp the every day courses and yet tested so well. But my point is: When dealing with young people, standardized tests are not infallible. Some people who are good students do not test well. Others, such as myself who cannot seem to grasp mathematical formulas or how to diagram a sentence, seem to excel. Standardized tests aren't necessarily the best gauge, (In my opinion.) to judge if we are really educating our children. Besides sometimes a child needs to be left behind so they can have a chance to perform better later.

Since the U.S., and especially the Southwest U.S., has had such an influx of students with Spanish as their native language, it was decided that bilingual education was necessary as a bridge from Spanish to English and as a way to preserve cultural identity. Cultural identity, I will agree, is important. I have grandchildren with an Hispanic Culture of which they know little. They are assimilated too well . I regret they have never really known about their mother's culture.

However, very often, these children have parents who speak only Spanish. As students they have limited exposure to English at school; and very often none at home. They struggle trying to learn a new language and what they'll need to be trained in a faster growing global economy. Only the very brightest will emerge with a better life than that of their parents. These students, each of them, should be immersed in English from their first day in school, much like the children of other immigrants.

In the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, this nation saw the largest influx of immigrants ever. They came from all over the globe, Eastern Europe, Russia, China and Mexico among other nations. Their children were immediately immersed in the English language. They learned; and they helped make this nation into the most powerful industrial producer the world had ever seen.

Our national leaders, are always reactionary rather than proactive toward education. They decide what we need in our schools. Then they tie the ability to receive federal tax dollars to those rules. If a school has a lowered average daily attendance, tax dollars are taken away. If a school doesn't comply to disability standards, dollars are taken. With what result? Schools are made financially poor.

The word for the week is extortion.

 

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