A March, 2008 editorial in the Houston Chronicle title “Back to School” once again focused the light of truth on the problems of educating our children. And like thousands of other studies and billions of dollars spent on them, the conclusion is the same: “Houston, we have a problem.” However, this piece did shed light on a few new ones.
The letter stated that “almost no one believes that the law (NCLB) can achieve the main goal of having every child in America reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.” One can only wonder what would happen if we not only believed this statement, but accepted it as our only goal. The Effective School Movement, on which the NCLB is partly based, says that social, economic, and environmental factors are not to blame for poor student achievement. It states that all students can learn, but they learn at different rates, different times, and in different ways. But all students can learn.
What if educators, school boards, parents, civic clubs, and communities all believed and understood the complete statement (but they learn at different rates, different times, and in different ways) and joined forces to find a viable solution to help each child succeed and to reach his or her full potential. What if failure were not an option? Imagine the positive results if all students were helped to achieve a high standard at each grade level before moving to the next? Passing a student on to the next grade level by using low standards to make our school systems look “exemplary” or to insure that we do not “lower a neighborhood’s desirability and property values” seems to succeed in only in exacerbating the problem. Where exactly is the focus on the student in that statement?
It seems unconscionable that school districts must adopt two reporting methods to avoid losing federal funding rather than focus on the real root of the problem which is how best to teach all children. Protecting property values to avoid losing tax dollars insures that our students will suffer. Perhaps a back to basics approach is needed. How can we help our teachers in the classroom?
The editorial also stated, “the law will work better if it is tweaked to distinguish between schools that, according to standardized math and reading tests, are failing miserably, and those in which only a handful of students are not adequately passing.” Do laws teach? What if we took a no excuse approach to teaching to a higher standard for all students? Do the concepts of math, science, history, or any other learning have anything to do with racial, ethnic, or class biases? Isn’t 2+2=4 the same if you are poor, rich, Hispanic, African American, or Caucasian? High standards are not affected by race creed color or religion.
The last sentence of the letter is the critical one. “How best to achieve it is a puzzle from which a nation must not turn away.” Absolutely true. But, it is not the lack of desire or lack of efforts for the past 20 years that has caused the problem. The real problem just may be that we are focusing our attention on the “problem of the problem” instead of actual solutions. After decades of spin to show that we have met our testing goals the truism is that students are at every grade level have been left behind.
If we are to succeed in changing our approach, failure cannot be an option.
Source: Dr. Don Hutson