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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Ode to NCLB

By Peter DeWitt — October 23, 2011 4 min read
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The other day I was going through some old Word files. I have a lot of pieces of writing I started but never finished. Usually, things sound like a great idea in my mind and then it just doesn’t look right on paper. I save a few pieces and revisit them from time to time.

One piece of writing that I found was entitled “Ode to NCLB.” I had written it in 2003 while I was working at an underfunded small city elementary school. I was frustrated at the time because NCLB was seen as the umbrella that covered us all, although it never really protected us from the rain. Although all of the goals looked really good on paper, I couldn’t escape the fact that it seemed lofty, which is how I still feel today.

At the time, I was teaching in a small classroom, with four old computers and watched as my students entered the classroom with a limited vocabulary and empty backpacks. Some of them came from homes where their parents were in prison, sold drugs and did a variety of other illegal activities.

I was appointed to sit on a team that went for a Reading First Grant. At the time, none of us had heard about Reading First, we just knew we were being offered around $2.1 million dollars and we were unconcerned about the hoops we had to jump through to get the money. When you work in a poor school, you need the money. I think we all believed that money could solve the social and emotional problems so many students face.

In the end, we received the grant after a great deal of hard work by a limited number of people. We felt, and many of us still feel, that we did a great thing for a school that desperately needed the money. The governor of New York at the time listed the schools that received the grant. We were excited when we read that we would be getting a little over two million dollars. It was going to change our lives but more importantly, it would change the lives of our students.

In the end, we ended up getting under one million dollars, which was never corrected in the paper. Although I learned a lot about great literacy practices, the importance of progress monitoring, and a new company called Wireless Generation, I also began to learn about scripted programs and the politics of not getting everything we were promised.

An Ode to the Law
After reading this, many of you may wish that I never found the old document but I thought I would share it with you because I realized how very little has changed about the frustration we felt about the law so long ago.

Ode to NCLB
Walking into school like zombies each day,
The children in Room 2 only had one thing to say.
“We never do anything but test after test,
To find out if our learning’s mediocre to best.”

My teacher tells us about the good ole’ days,
When children were allowed to learn in all different ways.
Now every child is tested the same,
Regardless of ability, income, or name.

The teachers here seem really quite stressed,
About the thousands of quizzes and mandated state tests.
Our teachers are worried because the questions aren’t inquiry-based,
The tests seem to be created without thought and with haste.

Will we ever see a time when the testing will stop?
I fear that we won’t with Race to the Top.
They tell us our school is indebted to N...C...L...B
With all of its promise and lack of money.

Of course, if our school doesn’t happen to do well,
There’ll be many houses in our district to sell.
Because our grades will be in the local news.
Poorer districts will be left singing the blues.

No Child Left Behind is a wonderful law
(Half of the money is what we actually saw).
Standards and objectives are much needed.
However, it’d be better if most of the testing receded.

Back in 2001 it seemed almost obscene
To say all children will reach proficiency by 2013
It was a lofty goal that everyone could savor
Although we attempted the goal, we ended up with a waiver

Don’t compare our schools unless the money’s the same,
When we don’t fare well, we look for someone to blame,
“Is it the fault of administrators, parents, or teachers?”
All of the politicians yell from their comfortable bleachers.

As teachers, we want our students to be successful in life
And have the critics stop with all of this strife.
Let teachers teach, and our students will learn
Nurture all of them to find something to yearn.

Whether it be college or finding a trade
It’s not an assessment where they’ll make the grade
It’s personal growth and finding their own trail
That’s where they’ll show, their true pass or fail.

For many years those who are critical of NCLB have been painted as people who only want to accept the status quo. I’m sure these same people have countless books about building better classrooms and leadership books about change on their bookshelves at home and school to prove that they want to help change the system.

The reality is that there is a percentage of teachers and administrators who want to accept the status quo and not change. Those are usually the educators we hear about in the news. However, there is a much larger percentage of us who believe we can change education, we just don’t think over-testing and NCLB are the ways to do it.

After reading the Ode that I wrote, it brought back all of those memories of sitting in a small room for nine days with five other people who cared a great deal about education and children. It brought back those feelings of worry about what would happen to our students who come from homes that lacked exposure to books and proper language. Even worse, it made me remember all of those students who were exposed to things like homelessness, child abuse, alcohol and drugs and still came to school every day. Until we fix those sad realities, I am not sure we can fix all of the others. If NCLB fixes all of those issues for kids, then I am on board.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.