Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/thu/31211weaver-COMMENTARY.html
In educating, one size does not fit all
Arizona Daily Star
December 11, 2003
By Reg Weaver
In the words of President Bush: "One size does not fit all when it comes to the
education of the children in America."
But as parents and teachers have learned this fall, that's just the approach
taken by the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.
The 2.7 million-member National Education Association shares the goal of the
law: to close the achievement gap between the affluent, predominantly white
student bodies of suburban schools and the poor, non-Asian minorities of our
But we dispute the administration's premise that we can test our way to
educational excellence. And we are outraged when anyone dismisses the $11
billion shortfall in federal funding for education as a "bogus argument."
The so-called No Child Left Behind Act declares that in 10 years - 2014 and
forever after - every single child in America will be "proficient" in reading,
math and science.
Every child. Children with disabilities. Children who don't speak English.
Children who live in poverty and move every two months.
The law decrees that the sole measure of "proficiency" is performance on
standardized tests. Although the tests themselves vary widely from state to
state, the reporting requirements are the same: Scores must be broken down by
race and ethnicity and for students with disabilities. If any of these groups is
not up to snuff, the entire school fails.
With this one-size-fits-all approach, some of the best schools in America have
been declared failures.
One is Princeton High School in Princeton, N.J., where 100 percent of the
students graduate and 79 percent go on to four-year colleges, including seven
National Merit semifinalists this year alone.
Another is ethnically diverse Midwood High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., nationally
renowned as an incubator for the Intel Science Talent Search, five of whose
winners have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.
In Maryland, the failures include more than 3,000 third-graders and 30
elementary schools, including eight in affluent Montgomery County.
The grounds for declaring these schools "in need of improvement" illustrate the
absurdity of the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.
At Midwood, less than 1 percent of the population performed poorly - 33 students
with disabilities out of a student body of 3,500.
Some of the Maryland schools failed because teachers read questions aloud to
students with limited English skills or disabilities - not because they were
cheating, but because these children have special needs.
Other Maryland schools failed because fewer than 95 percent of the students in a
reporting category were present on the day of the test - an automatic "F."
To close the achievement gap between white and non-Asian minority students, we
need high standards as well as common-sense measures of accountability that go
beyond a single test score - not mindless paperwork and bureaucracy.
Poor and minority students in inner-city schools need what students in more
affluent suburban schools already have: small classes, highly qualified
teachers, involved parents, up-to-date books and materials, and access to 21st
It's not sexy. It's not the latest gimmick. Just plain common sense.
But it doesn't come cheap. Bush has asked Congress to provide $87 billion in
supplemental funds to rebuild Iraq - one-third more than the budget of the
entire U.S. Department of Education.
Rebuilding Iraq is important and necessary, but so is investing in the education
of the children who will shape America's future.
The so-called No Child Left Behind Act may be the most massive unfunded mandate
ever imposed on the states by Washington.
Congress must put an end to the absurdity and appropriate the funds needed to
ensure great public schools for every child.
* Reg Weaver is president of the National Education Association, 1201 16th St.
NW, Washington, DC 20036-3290; www.nea.org. This commentary was distributed by
Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.