Friday, September 23, 2011

A Preschool Teacher's (and College Educator's) Take on No Child Left Behind

Anyone who knows me knows how horrid I think standardized testing is.  In retrospect, I think my opinions on this kind of testing have become extreme as the type of testing has become more commonplace and more extreme.  Standardized testing requires all children to pass a test that is geared toward the majority population.  That means, first and foremost, children who are not of the majority are already at a disadvantage.  We're not talking Eubonics here, people; we're talking basic cultural variances.  For instance, when I lived in Oklahoma, if you wanted a soda you asked for a pop a lot of the time.  If my children were to take a standardized test and it had a picture of a soda can and asked them to circle the word describing the can, they could waste valuable time looking for the word "pop" instead of "soda".  What's the big deal?  Well, those few seconds add up, and make your New Yorker look smarter than my Oklahoman, even if that's not the case.

Today was an amazing day in my eyes, because three years into his presidency, President Obama has finally uttered the words every teacher in this country has longed to hear:  educational reform.  NCLB had good intentions; the goals of having every child ready for school by six was lofty but laudable.  Where NCLB fell on its proverbial ass, in my opinion, is in these three points:  1.  Recognizing that all children are NOT the same and some were left behind at birth; 2. providing appropriate wraparound services (medical, therapeutic, psychoeducational, family support) to ensure all children are fed and healthy and READY to enter a classroom; and 3. finding a scapegoat in this nation's teachers.

I have been a surrogate mom on a few occasions for students, and many years ago, for two children I cared for while their mother worked and dealt with a lot of problems she had.  Nothing is as difficult as trying to be somebody's parent when you aren't.  They know it and you know it, and what's worse, is they know that their own parent didn't care enough (or couldn't, for whatever reason) be there, and now they're stuck with you.  Usually, I try to keep things focused on fun and we do that.  But every once in awhile it's torturous.  But that's part of my job now.  Supporting my students in every way is part of my job.

Feeding them is as well.  I have had children come to school unclean and unfed.  I kept food in my desk for them.  Pride often kept them from asking in front of classmates, but they knew they could pull me aside.  Additionally, I often diagnose a child who is too sick to come to school.  Fevers, rashes, excessive mucous, swollen eyes, vomiting, or diarrhea are unacceptable symptoms to bring a child to school with.  And I always am looking for ways to educate parents.  So many parents are looking for a little bit of help with their kids but don't know where to turn.  The internet and the bookstore are almost frighteningly overwhelming.  So they turn to me, their child's teacher.

All of the failures of NCLB have fallen on teachers' shoulders, except when they haven't, and they've fallen through the cracks.  Those are the children who are really left behind.  The children that nobody even notices, except for test scores.  The goal then, is to get the child up to a passing score if possible.

Most schools provide extra food the week of testing.  Why?  Because we all do better if we've eaten.  There are parent volunteers.  Why?  Because it's helpful to have more hands to proctor tests and collect answer sheets.  I have known principals who have gone house to house to pick up sick or tardy or absent children to take standardized tests. Why?  So their test numbers are high enough.

Can you imagine if we practiced these things without a test being our motivator?

Perhaps if we can learn anything from NCLB, it's that it's commendable to have strong, lofty goals for our children—and our nation.  But those goals must be ones that we as a nation buy into, believe, and support wholeheartedly.  Money for education must start with the education of parents prior to a baby's birth.  Child development is NOT the same as academic rigor, and should be part of what parents learn about their babies.  Expectations should be clear, and needs should be met.  A child who is hungry simply cannot perform well on a test.  Neither can one who needs medical care, or even one who needs the care of a parent.

NCLB has possibilities, should we be able to turn it on its ear, re-evaluate it, and redistribute some allotments.  In addition, it makes sense for the nation's strongest educators of young children to be in charge of a project such as this, rather than political committees that vary state to state, producing tests of varying quality and leverage.  A national skill set should be established for each grade, and children should be held accountable to meeting those skills, with the guidance of their teachers.

It's my deepest hope that President Obama's words today were just the start of a dialogue, rather than a passing fancy.  I believe in our nation, and I believe in our nation's children.  And with the guidance of loving adults, these children can shine.

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