The federally-mandated No Child Left Behind law of 2002 has created more controversy in education circles than anything that has come along in recent memory. Though noble in design, the law is a flawed concept that has absolutely no chance of success. And yet before this dismal law is changed, countless school districts will suffer immeasurable harm. Many in our region may well fall into that category.
I think we were all somewhat asleep at the switch when this measure was in the pipeline. We must have been. Had anyone paid close attention it should have been clear that the mandated goals of this law were impossible to achieve. And it most certainly is not the fault of the education community that this legislation is doomed to fail.
Under the No Child Left Behind law, all students in all schools must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. That will never happen. Mark my word and the words of thousands of educators who recognize the flaw. We expect - no we demand - that schools raise the educational level of ALL students when, in fact, that concept on its face is a farce.
Accept it whether you like it or not - some students, some groups of students will never, ever achieve proficiency in reading and math no matter how much money we throw their way. Far too many students come to school unprepared, come without any support system at home and come to school with no intention of learning whatsoever. Absent laws that prohibit it, many students would never attend school.
To compound the issue immensely, the law mandates that all students in all categories achieve at this high level. But students with learning disabilities and some sub-groups of students will never reach these levels. And yet the schools will be penalized if these goals are not achieved.
Rest assured, the day will come when this law will be changed. This week, in fact, the first crack in the armor occurred. Educational Department officials have now decided that the most severe learning problem students can be held to a different academic standard than their peers. That single move is long overdue. But why has it taken this long to come to this most obvious conclusion?
In Sikeston, if you examine the test scores, minority students scored at a dismal level on the national testing scale. That is a major problem. First, we need continued assurance that these students are given every opportunity to achieve at the same levels as all other students. But when you see the results, you begin to recognize the size and scope of the problem. And if we expect the school system to reverse social and cultural issues, we're just kidding ourselves.
The federal Education Department should immediately acknowledge they made a mistake. The Bush administration should admit that the goals were too high, too fast and too unrealistic to be achievable. And then we should focus on three areas of concentration. First, we must assure that the best and brightest are given all of the tools to achieve in higher education. That is essential. Secondly, we must tailor programs for the middle rung of the educational ladder to help them be production with or without higher education. And finally, we must equip those under-achievers with life skills that are not taught at home and that are needed for them to become productive members of society and not dependent on others for the remainder of their lives.
Without equal emphasis on all three phases of our student culture, we are short-changing someone. Some children will be left behind. That is not the fault of society nor the education community nor any others. We can do our best to elevate the status of all students but until the student accepts that same goal, we're just throwing rhetoric at a real problem.