I had just come to Jamestown in 2001 when No Child Left Behind was passed. It promised more funds for education and an emphasis on student achievement and teacher accountability. No one can find fault with a program that demands high standards, emphasizes student achievement and delivers dollars to help districts meet the goals set by the program. And yet after 10 years I think I can tell you that No Child is broken, almost beyond repair. To be honest, it has accomplished some of what it set out to do. Congress was concerned about the “achievement gap” that exists between whites and minorities in many communities. Some research indicates that the gap is closing in some communities. The most important accomplishment of No Child is that it has forced educators to concentrate on what students have learned, not on what we have taught. I can remember being a young teacher discussing what I thought was poor performance by the class on a test. My response was always that the students did not study hard enough. I never concerned myself with whether or not I taught the material well. No Child has helped move education from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered classroom, and that is a very positive change.
But where do we go from here. Jamestown Public Schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress this year. Four of our seven schools did not make AYP. Does this make us failures? Does this mean we have bad teachers or students who are unmotivated? Of course not!
In North Dakota not one Class ‘A’ school district made AYP. Are they all failures? According to some estimates, as many as 80% of our nation’s schools will not make AYP this year. Are they all failures?
What do we want our schools to accomplish? Do we want students to memorize unrelated facts and emphasize learning for the sake of testing? Or, do we want students to come out of schools knowing how to work cooperatively and how to communicate effectively? Do we want students who are creative and innovative? No test can measure that. The United States has been at the top of the world economically for a century because we had a strong public education system and we emphasized creativity, individuality, and upward mobility through education. We can’t afford to lose that.
Senator Conrad was quoted as saying No Child Left Behind has to be “ended or amended.” I could not agree more. Congress must work with educators so that a new education bill makes sense. We are not opposed to high standards or accountability. Let’s just create a vehicle that does this without being punitive. Let’s write a bill that actually helps educate our young people so that we can continue to be the economic engine that drives the world. Then, perhaps, we can say no child was left behind.