Children left behind

Why set kids up to fail? For that matter, why load up their parents and teachers with guilt?

Not everyone is capable of shining academically. On a bell curve of IQ, there are just as many people to the left of the apex as to the right. Extraordinary nurture can elicit amazing results with unremarkable nature, just as extraordinary nature can go to waste without adequate nurture. Add to that individual personality and motivation, and no one can predict who’s going to reach great heights and who will sink to eye-averting lows. But we can be sure that not everyone will succeed along the same academic track.

This year, the well-intentioned No Child Left Behind law ratcheted up to a new level. Only four of 19 schools in the renowned Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system met the standards. That reflects less on the quality of our schools than it does on the unrealistic expectations of NCLB. And schools that don’t meet the higher standards year after year risk funding cuts or being closed altogether. States can opt out of NCLB only if they give up that federal funding.

The theory behind NCLB, proposed a decade ago and signed into law in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush, was that if you set high expectations for students and teachers, they will meet them. The sanctions for not meeting the goals pushed some school systems to peg teachers’ bonuses on whether their students passed the annual assessments. Students who struggled with retaining information long enough to pass tests or whose thought processes led them to different conclusions than the standardized tests did failed.

High school is tough because students are pressured to excel at everything. And none of us do. Just because someone is incapable of meeting traditional academic standards, doesn’t mean they can’t succeed elsewhere. Give students alternate paths that allow them to flourish in the areas in which they are competent. Holding on to those high expectations for a student who can’t meet them is the surest way to leave that child behind.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. John Kramer

     /  August 2, 2011

    I am so glad to see there are still some things that are Bush’s fault. I was really starting to miss him!

  2. DOM

     /  August 2, 2011

    Mr. Kramer –

    Regarding President Bush, please don’t forget two unsuccessful wars and an economy teetering on collapse.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  August 2, 2011

    I could not disagree with you more on this, Nancy. I’m not a big defender of NCLB, but I also don’t equate NCLB with high expectations. High expectations are not the heart and soul of NCLB; testing is. And there’s generally a huge gap between what many people can do on tests and what they can do in practice. The way successful teachers work with high expectations is to care enough about individual students that they spend the time and energy required to make sure each one meets his/her potential, regardless of any personal challenges. They teach to the student, not the test. In public education lingo that is called differentiation. But you can’t legislate that kind of commitment so instead of getting the belief that every child can be successful in their own unique way and the practices that support that goal, we got a bunch of tests that act in total opposition to the goal.

    What you are saying sounds like support for tracking to me. Not good. That doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t have the option to take vocational classes. But the system shouldn’t dictate that as their only choice. Aptitude tests aren’t much more reliable than EOGs when it comes to determining someone’s future.

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  August 2, 2011

    I’m not advocating tracking. The job market has room for many people who do not have college degrees. Why not take the stigma away from those jobs by encouraging acceptance in school that not everyone has to be college bound?

  5. John Kramer

     /  August 2, 2011

    Dear Dom, I will take teetering on the brink of collapse over the current freefall and collapse.

    And if NCLB is about test scores then it is about expecting high test scores, ie high expectations, how could one possibly reason otherwise. Is Terri suggesting there are no expectations as to scores? Oh please!

    George Bush, 2012. Either one is fine with me.