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What Does No Child Left Behind (Morphed Into Race to the Top) Mean Exactly?

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Part One

By Linda Dobson

Just as she has for 180 days each year for a little over a decade, Mary enters her eighth grade classroom in a small Louisiana school at least half an hour before the children arrive. While the room is still peaceful she plans to organize supplies for a morning science project and make sure she has all the necessary permission slips for an upcoming field trip. But next week’s “high stakes” state achievement tests move from their ever-present seat at the back of her mind to the front. She sighs as she tries to make herself comfortable behind her soon-to-be-an-antique wooden desk and pulls in front of her a stack of her students’ most recent writing assignments.

TeacherAnna’s paper is on top, illegible as always. Jason’s and Zoe’s are as good as expected, but then there’s Ryan’s. At first glance it appears “the” and “a” are the only two words spelled right in the entire paragraph. Jee got off the subject in his second sentence and never returned. And Erik’s. Poor, sweet Erik could churn out a complete story each hour, but his hands just can’t keep up with his vivid imagination.

“Just like last year’s horrifying statistics, that’s four out of six in this classroom unlikely to pass the writing portion of the test,” Mary says out loud while placing Erik’s paper on the bottom of the pile. “Now there’s talk about making these test scores a full twenty-five percent of the children’s fourth quarter report card grades so preparing for it takes up all of our time. If I could spend just ten minutes one-on-one with these children every day – just ten minutes – I know it would make a world of difference in their understanding. I could present the material to each one in a way that makes sense, not for a test, but for the individual.” Mary sighs again.

Mary sighs because she knows all too well the tale of the test. In June, 2003, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation’s Report Card), reported that 36 percent of 4th graders cannot read at what the test defined as a “basic” level. Not only are scores equally dismal in other basic subjects, the evidence strongly suggests the situation gets worse, not better, as these children reach high school.

One of the reasons may be the potpourri of negative learning labels slapped on children today. Parents  eager to proactively help their children buy and read the myriad books specializing in one label or another, only to be told how to make the best of the situation. Yet while no education theorists have convincingly explained why we’re producing so many “learning disabled” children all of a sudden (and, interestingly, the United States is the only country producing them in near-epidemic proportion), current research on learning, coupled with the undeniably faltering state of public education, points toward a situation that might be more accurately described as “teaching disabled.”

Despite the necessity of a school’s singular approach to teaching, mounting evidence leaves little doubt that all children don’t learn in the same BoyInSchoolway. The traditional classroom situation is often inadequate to properly address the unique learning needs of individual children. Throw in a small tidbit that anyone who has ever observed two children for even an hour picks up – all children are not interested in the same things at the same time — and you’re on to the recipe that is creating a learning crisis in the classroom.


From The Learning Coach Approach: Inspire, Encourage, and Guide Your Child Toward Greater Success in School and in Life (Running Press, 2005)

See Also “No Child Left Behind Act unsound educational policy”

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One Response to “What Does No Child Left Behind (Morphed Into Race to the Top) Mean Exactly?”

  1. kat says:

    I was talking the other day to a potential homeschooling mom whose daughter was having difficulty learning to read and said, "I'm surprised that so many public school kids do learn to read at all, I can't imagine teaching 20-30 kids at the same time with no one-on-one time with each child." Perhaps I'm just clueless, but how can one teacher know exactly each child's strengths and weaknesses and address each one? Luckily I only have 6 kids and so I can determine what to focus on with each child.

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