Monday, September 26, 2005

Lawsuit against No Child Left Behind misdirected --

This week's Advocate is out. As usual lots of required reading.

This is an editorial from Pennsylvania that gets it right. This is so right on I print it in entirety from The Tribune-Democrat
Published: September 23, 2005 09:10 am

Connecticut currently is suing the U.S. Department of Education for the unfunded mandates that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

But such lawsuits fail to address the fact that full funding for the legislation, which supports more high-stakes standardized testing, does not guarantee that students will be more successful in school.

Instead, we need to re-evaluate the goals for the legislation and redistribute funding accordingly.

Annual testing of children in grades 3 to 8 is a hallmark of NCLB, and many states have acknowledged that the policy is not cost-effective, as the price of testing and related components of the legislation exceed the money received from the federal government. If districts do not meet the annual cut-off scores to demonstrate that students are making adequate progress each year on the tests, they risk losing federal funding for their schools.

The legislation, however, does not reflect the reality of many children’s lives.

During a recent visit to a rural school in the northern tier of Pennsylvania, I found that about half of the children in grades K-3 are living in poverty. The district anticipates that 80 percent of these children will not finish high school. These numbers are alarming, and will have long-term consequences for the commonwealth. Other parts of the state and nation are following a similar trend.

As school and community infrastructures crumble in many districts, and as jobs that pay a living wage are becoming more difficult to find, increasing the amount of standardized testing does little to improve the day-to-day instruction of individual children in public schools. This is not the purpose of standardized tests.

Most teachers do not need standardized tests to determine which children may be struggling the most. In fact, teachers are readily able to identify students who may be at risk for dropping out of school without reviewing their standardized testing profile. Teachers know which children need more support with their school learning, and they have high expectations for these children. Yet, those I’ve talked with wonder why we need to spend so much money to tell us what we already know. Wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere to support the children in our public schools?

If, as a society, we are truly interested in ensuring that all children can meet with success in public schools and become well-educated citizens in our democracy, we need to be sure their basic needs are met before we put demands on their school learning. As the number of children living in poverty and without health care reaches record-high numbers, we need to re-examine the blithe claim that we will leave no child behind.

Connecticut’s lawsuit is clearly misdirected. We do not need more money from the federal government to pay for standardized testing and related instruction to improve test scores. Instead, we need more support to care for children in America’s public schools.

The work of advocating for children needs to come from communities such as ours. We need to insist that our legislators direct funding not toward the already wealthy testing companies and schools where children easily pass standardized tests but to the well-being of the neediest children in our state.

We need to all be held accountable for the welfare of our children, rather than expecting that children should be held accountable to academic tests that may guarantee federal money for their schools but are meaningless in the scheme of the very real and pressing problems they face each day.

Jacqueline Edmondson, Ph.D., is associate professor of education and teacher-education coordinator at Penn State.

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