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- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Fairy Tale
- From: George Sheridan <email@example.com>
- Date: Sun, 11 May 2003 09:10:27 -0700
Does anyone know where this piece was originally published? It was
forwarded to me by a colleague, who received it from another teacher, etc.
No Child Left Behind?
David Finley, Principal, Webster Elementary School, Mesa, AZ.
Educators know the truth but are afraid to say it: All children
cannot learn. I am an educator, and in my profession it is a mortal sin to
say that all children cannot learn . Now that I have said it publicly, I
will probably lose my job and be excommunicated from my profession. At the
very least I am certain it will give Arizona's State superintendent of
public instruction a bad case of heartburn. Perhaps I can redeem myself by
rephrasing the statement: All children can learn but all children cannot
learn as much as all other children. And all children cannot learn to some
preset state or federal standard, as is currently mandated by the No Child
Left Behind Act and Arizona Learns legislation.
I am principal of a school the state has labeled "underperforming."
Does this embarrass me? Not in the least. The label is a misnomer. Schools
are simply brick and mortar. They do not perform, over or under. The label
really means that the school's instructional staff is underperforming.
Since I know that the teachers at my school are effective, dedicated
professionals who are actually "overperforming," I am not the least bit
embarrassed by being mislabeled as a result of this ridiculous legislation.
Color me defensive if you must, but I believe labeling schools is nothing
more than name-calling, something most of us learned not to do in
kindergarten. Labeling schools will not improve them and actually runs
counter to the intended purpose. The goal of the law is admirable and sounds
great to voters Schools will be held accountable to ensure that all children
learn and succeed; the achievement gap between poor and rich kids will
magically disappear; and no child will be left behind. The only phrase
missing is that everyone will live happily ever after.
Like the emperor in the classic fairy tale, the No Child Left Behind
Act has no clothes, but no one is saying so. The punitive nature of the
legislation is forcing teachers to teach to a test instead of teaching
children; consequently, there may be a superficial rise in test scores.
However, for solving the problem of low achievement by at-risk children, it
is tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on a headache. Saying that "all"
children must achieve to a predetermined standard on a test is like saying
that all children in physical education classes must run a six-minute mile
on a physical fitness exam. And saying that all children must show one year's
academic growth for one year in school is like saying that all children in
the school lunch program must gain 10 pounds and grow 2 inches in one year.
Children are not created equal in athletic ability or physical
characteristics. Neither are they created equal in their ability to learn.
Any first-year teacher knows this; apparently politicians do not. They have
created a law that is focused on fixing the schools and just possibly the
schools aren't broken. I am not saying the schools are perfect or that we
cannot improve. And I firmly believe that the education profession must be
held accountable for what it does. But this is true of every profession,
including law and medicine. The professional educator, however, seems to be
at the bottom of the food chain. Unlike any other profession, we are
constantly asked to do more with less. And politicians, who say things that
are politically expedient but not educationally realistic, relentlessly
criticize us. Doctors and lawyers are never subject to such political
philandering and shortsighted legislation. Doctors are not required by law
to cure all their patients. It is acknowledged that there are circumstances
with each patient that are unique. Some patients will not follow their
doctor's instructions; some simply have illnesses that cannot be cured.
Lawyers are not required by law to win all their cases. It is recognized
that every client has a unique set of circumstances that will directly
affect their attorney's ability to bring them success in court.
Teachers, on the other hand, do not fare so well with lawmakers. The
law ignores the fact that schools in the low-income areas serving
predominantly at-risk children have much higher percentages of children with
special "medical problems and legal circumstances." Under the threat of a
"failing label" teachers must cure every child irrespective of his or her
illness; win every case in the courthouse of the classroom no matter the
legal circumstance of the child.
In "The Emperor's New Clothes," it takes a small child to tell the
truth and bring the adults to their senses. Maybe our legislators need to
come into the "underperforming" schools. They might learn some things they
did not know before. Perhaps this would bring about some responsible
legislation aimed at solving some of our problems instead of creating new
ones, such as an exodus of quality teachers from the at-risk schools, where
they are needed most. Fairy tales usually have a happy ending, but I fear
not this one.
David Finley is the principal of Webster Elementary School in Mesa, AZ.
He has been an educator for 32 years