The No Child Left Behind Act is, like most of President Bush’s programs, a complete failure. Money and attention that have previously benefited our brightest children are, under NCLB, being diverted to remedial programs that help students who struggle to grasp basic curricular requirements. Focusing every resource on failing students increases the likelihood that students who aren’t will never get ahead.
Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee of Duke University wrote an interesting article in February about the impact NCLB is having on our country’s brightest pupils. It is the impetus for this post.
Please indulge a bit of bragging. My seven-year-old daughter, Skye, is a first grader this year. Early in the school year we scheduled an appointment with her teacher because, quite simply, Skye wasn’t learning anything. I requested they move her to second grade and argued that she was only a first grader because of a technicality: she missed the birthday cutoff by two weeks. Her teacher rejected the request citing district policy and told me I could discuss it with the principle. We figured we’d be moving soon so picking a fight here probably wasn’t worth it. Instead her teacher came up with an agreeable compromise, Skye would remain a first grader but go to a second grade class for math and reading.
Since then Skye has had a desk in her first grade classroom and one in her second grade classroom. She is officially a first grader but spends most of her time in second grade. That worked for a while. She is now doing multiplication and division worksheets independently while her classmates learn concepts Skye mastered long ago.
Our five-year-old daughter, Jenna, is a kindergartner in a similar situation. She’s adding and subtracting in her head while her classmates learn how to identify numbers and count to ten. Both of them are marched to the library every day for individualized study away from their classmates.
The story is repeated when the subject is switched from mathematics to reading and writing.
We have been fortunate to have teachers that are flexible and accomodating. They care about the needs of our daughters and have worked very hard to provide the education Skye and Jenna need. But it isn’t enough. They are stretched thin with federal, state, and district testing requirements and helping failing students whose parents don’t care enough to provide supplementary instruction at home.
Enough is enough. “No child left behind” sounds great during a political campaign but doesn’t make good education policy. We need to insure that “no child left behind” doesn’t also mean that no children are allowed to excel. We need to encourage our brightest students and provide them with interesting and challenging instruction. Unfortunately, the simplest way to guarantee no child is left behind is to lower the standards. If we continue to do that we will continue to fall behind the rest of the first world in science, technology, education, and innovation.