First, we all need to accept an indisputable reality of life. Some children will be left behind. If a tragic car accident occurs which leaves a young child totally brain dead but kept alive on life support equipment, the child will obviously be left behind. No one would suggest that the child be main streamed into a normal classroom and receive all of a teachers time until he or she can pass standardized tests. The question before us is “Where do we draw the line”?
In many school districts right now, there are not separate classrooms for children who have learning disabilities or are emotionally impaired. These disadvantaged children are placed in regular classrooms and are expected to learn at approximately the same rate as children who are not disadvantaged. As a result, all children are being left behind.
The disadvantaged ones are not provided with special programs that are tailored to their needs by teachers trained in special education. And the children who are not disadvantaged are being left behind from where they would have been if regular classroom teachers were not spending disproportionate amounts of time on disadvantaged or troubled children.
What are special education teachers doing if they do not teach classrooms of disadvantaged children? They sit in on regular classrooms to try to assist the disadvantaged students learn or to help try to maintain classroom control.
My oldest daughter was a teacher in an elementary school. One year her class was progressing well ahead of other students at their grade level according to national tests. About half way through the school year, a girl who was born addicted to illegal drugs was added to her classroom. The girl frequently ran around, turned over tables, used vulgar language, hit and kicked my daughter and other students, and left the classroom to run down the hall. My daughter estimates that she spent about forty percent of her time trying to control the young girl while all of the other children were falling behind. The school principal would not allow my daughter to permanently expel the emotionally impaired child because the girl would be “left behind”.
The real tragedy for our country is that our national leaders are apparently mentally impaired for even proposing such an illogical notion as “no child left behind”, our society is apparently naive for going along with the notion, and our educators are apparently too timid to fight back against the notion.
A classroom is supposed to be a controlled learning environment. Students that disrupt that environment should not be in the classroom. Retarded, emotionally impaired, or otherwise troubled children who will not behave should not be in classrooms with children who do behave and want to learn.
Even in classrooms without disadvantaged students, disruptive students should be expelled from class for that day and sent to the cafeteria (for that day, even they are left behind). A letter should be sent to the parents of the children expelled from class in hopes that the parents might encourage their child to respect the rights of other children to learn.
Second, the amount of testing required by “no child left behind” is excessive. In the April 2007 issue of NEA TODAY, it is estimated that over half of a billion dollars a year is spent on testing required by No Child Left Behind. Even when schools that are performing below average are identified, it takes time to determine causes of problem areas and to implement corrective actions. Testing of schools with below average performance every other year is more than adequate.
Schools that test above average should only be retested every sixth year. It is disturbing that even schools whose students test in the ninetieth percentile range have to demonstrate “Adequate Yearly Progress”. The monies saved from less frequent testing could well be applied to teacher’s salaries, materials and supplies, or school repairs.
The “Quality Education Initiative (QEI)” I propose would rectify the inappropriate situation in education that we have now regarding unfunded federal government mandates. The estimated cost to the federal government to pay for testing materials required by QEI is one eighth of one billion dollars. Although that amount would be a very small percentage of the roughly three trillion dollar United States budget, the relief to individual school districts would be substantial.
The major feature of the Quality Education Initiative involves an incentive for students to stay in school and to earn good grades. The federal government would provide a grant of $200.00 per credit hour to students who are accepted by an accredited college or university. That amount is enough to completely cover the cost of tuition and fees at many community colleges, and would help considerably in relieving the financial burden to middle class families of sending their children to major universities. The program would be administered by the states using federal funds.
Today, many children of poor and middle class families have no hope of being able to go to college financially so they simply give up. Many drop out of school. This is a great waste and a great cost to society. Many dropouts can’t get jobs, get involved in crime, and end up in jail. Those who do find low paying jobs can barely get by and are unable financially to send their children to college. Thus the cycle of poverty continues.
After World War II, thousands of veterans went to college on the GI bill. As a result, the decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s flourished. Likewise, future decades from now could flourish rather than stagnate by giving an opportunity to young people trying to better themselves.
The estimated annual cost of the grant program is 120 billion dollars. Much of that amount would be recovered from increased tax revenues in future years over the lifetimes of the graduates.
Democratic societies require an educated populace in order to thrive and quite possibly even to survive. That is why my Quality Education Initiative needs to be adopted.