Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ahem...


Sorry I lost my cool you guys. Poverty is a hot button issue with me. I think about it every day and my work involves trying to alleviate its effects on learning. I could go on an on about how the poor start out in school at least three years behind their middle and upper class counterparts (at age five, they are already more than half their lifetime behind!) how hunger and toothaches prevent children from learning, how cultural differences can cause some children to be labeled "learning disabled" because the way they act and learn is different from their middle class teacher's way of doing things, how their parents are afraid to into the school because of negative experiences they had as students so these kids have no one to advocate for them. You tell me how will they ever escape poverty without academic success. They won't in a knowledge/information based economy, that's for sure and they won't get the education they need without an even playing field.
In W's defense, I am totally behind his sweeping legislation called the No Child Left Behind Act. I believe it is a civil rights act even more so than an educational one. It forces schools to be accountable for "subgroups" they were never held accountable for before, i.e. special ed kids, minorities, free and reduced lunch kids. NCLB is imperfect, it is shamefully underfunded, and its implemementation has been problematic. However, it is up for renewal and many educators and education organizations have made very specific recommendations for its improvement.
If not for the war in Iraq, Katrina, and all the closed-door dealing that has gone on, his legacy could have been one of a president who shined a light on inequity in education and made steps to correct it. So, perhaps I was a bit unfair in my attack the other day. However, I do believe that sometimes his left hand doesn't know what his right hand is doing, and not in a good way. With one hand, he is trying to level the playing field for everyone to have success in America. With the other, he is spending every penny he can find to fund the war in Iraq and it breaks my heart. Just think of what the US Education system could do with $24 BILLION.
But we do what we can with what we've got. NCLB is a grand, if problematic, idea. When a democrat takes office in January 2009 and NCLB is renewed with improvements recommended by education professionals, and we withdraw our troops from Iraq, we may see things start to change for the better. Until then we must continue to move forward the best we can.

15 comments:

  1. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    I'm no expert on NCLB, but I don't believe any idea is a good one if it isn't given a chance succeed, and it seems that NCLB has fallen into the same gaps that most of W's ideas fall in. Underfunded and poorly executed.

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  2. I think it will have it's chance...resources just need to be rearranged.

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  3. 24 Billion. It is a staggering number, isn't it? Imagine if we withdrew from every shithole in the world and concentrated on fixing what is wrong here at home?

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  4. Right now NCLB is a joke. Unless the government wants to get serious and put some money behind it it will NEVER do what it is supposed to.
    Hopefully someone will decide to help our country and our children before the rest of the world.

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  5. and, Phil, "the safest road to Hell is a gradual one" -- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    As for NCLB, like about 99% of all teachers I think it looks good ON PAPER but to actually WORK under it is opressive and ridiculous. For starters, it's punitive: schools who DON'T achive have their Federal funding taken away. These, BTW, often are very POOR schools, so now they've got a DOUBLE whammy-- low achieving students in poverty who don't perform well AND Uncle Sam taking away their money to improve. It is the very definition of "madness." It SHOULD have changed even before it left the board room, but I think some of the more overwhelmingly stupid ideas contained within it may indeed die a deserved a death in 09... I hope: so very MUCH damage has been done under Shrub's reign that it may take YEARS to put it all back into working order.

    As for the 24 billion-- isn't that what we spend there in a month or less?? I heard once we spent nearly 2 BILLION dollars EVERY DAY in Iraq... rebuilding THEIR schools.

    (oh, and Flann, isn't there a saying about how you don't NEED to apologize when you're RIGHT?!?)

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  6. To add on to what Big Orange said about NCLB: My school received NCLB funding to hire after-school tutors; the tutors were hired from an agency that was paid $1500 per student for their services. I was hired by that agency at $50 an hour to teach 15 students twice a week for 20 weeks. My extensive training consisted of a weekend afternoon session devoted to filling out time cards and a workbook that I was supposed to rea. So this agency made 22500 and paid me 2000. You do the math.

    And I am one teacher. At my school alone there were at least 8 of us, and this particular agency is the largest of its kind in the country; they are the contractor of choice for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't think it is too much of a coincidence that their office walls are covered with pictures of the founder shaking hands with Republican politicians.

    Wouldn't a better use of that money have been to hire more teachers so that class size was reduced throughout the school? Smaller class size is a proven way to improve reading and math skill. But it doesn't put any money into the hands of private enterprise.

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  7. Aside from its catchy title, there's nothing good about NCLB. Even on paper its flaws are apparent, and it's not just that it's underfunded.

    While theoretically it holds schools accountable for leveling the playing field, how it plays out in reality is very different. For starters, it's a lot easier for school administrations to get their tough cases to drop out (and therefore not be reflected in the data) than it is to figure out how to reach them and teach them.

    Secondly -- and I think this is the biggest flaw in NCLB -- when a school is found to be "failing," usually for the exact reasons you've cited, students at those schools are given the opportunity to transfer to a school that's not failing. But no additional funding follows them! You've simply moved the problem from one school to another and done absolutely NOTHING to address the source of the problem, i.e., poverty.

    Most importantly, NCLB's emphasis on standardized test scores practically ensures that no real learning goes on in school -- in a knowledge/information based economy students are learning very little about how to think for themselves because they're too busy memorizing information they could easily look up in an encyclopedia.

    NCLB sets schools up for failure, and I doubt very seriously that the intention of the politicians who created it was to level the playing field. As Lulu points out, this is about money. Once you've shifted all your poor students from failing schools to schools that will eventually fail without the funding to address their increasingly needy populations, you can make a pretty easy case that public education itself has failed and should be privatized.

    Poverty's a hot button issue with me too, which is why NCLB makes me so fucking angry. It's window dressing that does nothing nor INTENDS to do anything about solving the actual problem.

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  8. You know, so many of the Unelectables I've written about are opposed to public schools, but I believe public education is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to the United States - it really sets us apart from many countries. Why anyone would want to deny that kind of education to every child is beyond my understanding.

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  9. Can't find your email, so I have to let you know via your comments that I tagged you for a meme. (you don't have to keep this comment, either.)

    :)

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  10. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. I know NCLB is a pain in the ass. Hopfully, with its reinactment, education professionals' voices will be heard and honored. It's high time educators stopped letting politicians push them around. You don't see this kind of thing happening to doctors.

    If anything, NCLB has helped educators find a collective voice and hopefully that will give them real power to yeild.

    And Grant, I totally agree with you. People who wish to dismantle the public education system are not thinking about what's best for kids or society for that matter.

    Tanya: I'm on it...

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  11. 24 Billion? This war is approaching 500 billion in costs. Think of what a half trillion dollars could have done.

    Big Orange said everything I was going to say. W. is an international joke and a war criminal. As my son and I joke, thank god that someone is finally making Warren Harding and Richard Nixon a lot better.

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  12. I had a long conversation about managed health care with a doctor friend, who said that he has seen the future of health cre, and it is not pretty. He compared it to NCLB, so we'll see if the Docs gt pushed around too.

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  13. Johnny Yen: I stand corrected. Thank you.

    Lulu: It will be interesting to watch.

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  14. By the way, for a Republican government, this administration is very up in everyone's business, don't you think? I mean, what ever happened to less government?

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  15. No Child Left Unfunded.

    I wouldn't get too hopeful about 09, even with a Democratic administration. Unfortunately, It will probably be politics as usual. The problem is that politicians need to come up with something that sounds good to make it seem as if they are doing something worthwhile, NCLB. But while education is a topic that should be paramount on the national scene, most politicians don't see it as a real problem.

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