Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Whenever I run into a teacher, I ask what one thing the general public should be asking our politicians to do, to make things easier in the classroom. Over the last few months, the answer has been the same: get rid of ‘’No Child Left Behind’’ make-work and paperwork.

Now, they’re not saying they don’t want accountability and they don’t want to improve. Of course they do. They just don’t want this bureaucratic quicksand to detract from their ability to teach any more. Can you say ‘’Giant Sucking Sound’’?

We all know that the nationalization of schools began with LBJ’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education. In the ‘80s, ‘’America 2000’’ was born. Then it became ‘’Goals 2000.’’ Now it’s ‘’No Child Left Behind,’’ which has been nicknamed ‘’No Family Left Alone’’ for its many social engineering components, and ‘’No School Left Alone’’ for the micromanaging that many educators say it subjects them to.

The apparent capstone of all this nationalization is the national test that the educrats want every child in American to be taking soon, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the NAEP test, which has been nicknamed ‘’NOPE’’ by those who recognize that a national test will destroy the American model of diverse and excellent public education, and push us into the European / Japanese / Soviet model, which is a great education for the elite and a lousy one for everybody else.

No matter what you think of both sides, compromise doesn’t appear likely. The schools are complaining about being forced into compliance, and the feds are saying that shows they need to be forced. All this, over a mere 7 percent or so of the average school district’s budget; that’s how little comes from federal funding. The tail is definitely wagging the dog here.

Meanwhile, are we, the people, getting enough accountability for how our dollars are being spent? Are we in control of our schools?

I say we aren’t, but we could, if:

1. We withdrew from federal funding, right here, right now, and got out from under all these unfunded mandates.
2. We followed the simple, elegant and rational ‘’Ten Traits of Highly Successful Schools’’ suggested as a practical accountability guide by the Arizona-based education guru, Elaine K. McEwan.

We don’t need NCLB or federal funding, at all. We DO need local control, and to drive the decision-making and communication down to the grassroots level again. Right now, parents and taxpayers are completely out of this loop. That’s what’s wrong.

The surest way for parents to make sure YOUR child isn’t left behind is to get that book and evaluate your school for these traits. If you don’t see many of them, move your child to a different school -- perhaps a private school, where I believe these traits are most likely to be flourishing.

The surest way for taxpayers and policy-makers to make no child is left behind throughout Nebraska is for our lawmakers, educrats and school officials to get out from under the feds, and heed these common-sense accountability measures, as well.

These are explained much more fully in the book, but here are the Ten Traits from pp. 162-163:

1. Is the principal a strong instructional leader?

2. Are the teachers well-trained and highly motivated? Do they know their subject matter and respect students? Do they have high expectations for student achievement? Do they teach using methodologies that produce results?

3. Are the students motivated, disciplined, eager to learn, self-directed, and respectful of their peers, their teachers, and their parents?

4. Are parents involved in the life of the school in real and important ways? Are parents valued and respected by the principal and teachers? Do they work together with the educators to reinforce at home what is taught in school?

5. Are the school’s standards (the things which students are accountable to learn) academically focused, rigorous, comprehensive, clear, and measurable? Do the standards call for students to learn material and demonstrate skills that grow increasingly more difficult as they progress through school?

6. Are the curricula (teaching materials and methods that are used in the classroom) research-based and focused on student learning?

7. Are academic achievement and educational excellence top priorities?

8. Are all members of the school community committed to an academically focused mission?

9. Is communication open and constant between and among principal, teachers, students, and parents? Are everyone’s ideas, opinions, and information considered to be worthwhile?

10. Is the school a safe (high cleanliness and maintenance standards) and orderly (high behavioral standards) place in which to learn?

As we listen to both sides discuss, whine, gripe and criticize NCLB, let’s not miss the message: both sides really do want what’s best for kids. No doubt about that.

The thing is, how? Which is the better way to secure them -- submitting to federal regs that the local yokels hate, just to get a few extra cents on the dollar?

Or doing it a better way . . . our way?

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