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Civil Rights and NCLB


The No Child Left Behind Act does little to ensure educational equity for English-language learners, James Crawford writes in this Education Week commentary.

Because their test scores are used to determine schools' adequate yearly progress, he says, ELLs spend far too much class time on basic reading and mathematics, test preparation, and English-only instruction, while their more-advantaged peers are free to study a broad array of subjects and participate in academic activities such as field trips and the arts.

"In numerous ways, No Child Left Behind is increasing the achievement gap," Mr. Crawford writes, "if academic achievement is understood as getting an all-round education and, with it, an equal chance to succeed in life."

What do you think? Does the NCLB law stress equal test results at the expense of equal educational opportunity?


A number of years ago, at a workshop for headstart workers, a participant asked one of the speakers how to confront parents' commitment to punishment (read spanking) based discipline. The speaker suggested asking parents, "how's that working for you?" I have found it to be a useful question.

To those who would rather look at equity as based on inputs, I would ask, "how was that working for us?" I've been around since the sixties, and I have seen the Title I cash influx into the schools of low income students, and the desegregation efforts that attempted to equalize through integration, and I gotta ask--how well did that work at providing equal educational opportunity? I have seen white flight to the suburbs. I am aware that some suburban schools in my state have twice the per pupil $ of some urbans (yet I hear that $ don't make a difference).

It seems foolish to try to arrive at some notion of equity that does not look at (and measure) what education is for.

In my own state, ELL students may take the non-English subjects in their native language--which leads me to think that where they cannot, it is the state imposing the limitation, not NCLB. But where do we get off, in today's world, with regarding more than one language as a handicapping condition? Reality is, we should be teaching all our children second language ability at an early age.

I am grieved when I see schools (my own childrens' included) dive into to hyperdrive on test prep at the expense of a rich curriculum. But I have to ask again--"how's that working for you?" I do not observe that this is what is bringing success to the schools who have moved to the top. The schools that have sacrificed content for excessive time on how to bubble in, and select from four possible answers ARE NOT the ones that are rising to the top.

The most important question, and the one that I think we cannot continue to ignore, however, is this--do we really want to provide equal educational opportunity--whether measured by inputs or outputs? Or are we just much more comfortable viewing education as a shortage commodity and triaging our rations to those whose parents have the economics and the political clout to make sure that their kids get? That's a dangerous choice in a global economy, but unless we can honestly confront our reluctance to ensure a level playing field, we will continue to experience gaps in outcomes, based on gaps in inputs.

Yes, the NCLB law stresses equal test results at the expense of equal educational opportunity. Before I tell about my experiences as a teacher of English language learners, I'd like to relate a personal experience:

When my older son was in the seventh grade, his grades were very poor. He was lethargic and unmotivated. Because he was frequently ill with colds and vague aches and pains, I took him to the pediatrician many times. The doctor prescribed vitamins and various medications but didn't do a any lab work. I'll never know why I didn't question this, but I didn't. Finally my son read a book about a character with Type I diabetes and announced, "That's what I have." He was right. After being hospitalized and placed on insulin, my son gained weight and his grades went up. Today he is an electrical engineer with a Ph.D. from Stanford.

I tell this story because no reasonable person would blame his teachers for his low test scores in seventh grade. The child was ill and the only educational "intervention" that counted was medical care. Well, that is how it is with all children. They have different needs and what is an appropriate intervention for one child might not be needed for another. If we want to "close the gap," we must attend to all those factors that affect a person's ability to learn: health, nutrition, experiences, cognition, language,and schooling. Just as my son needed medical care in order to learn, the same is true of the poor child who is ill. "No excuses" is just a big cop-out. (Let's see Bush try to teach "phonemic awareness" to someone with untreated ear infections. They want "research-based?" Well the research tells us that children who cannot hear well don't learn to read easily.)

James Crawford's article made a brilliant point: the Bush administration wanted the American people to think that the "achievement gap" could be closed without providing for equal educational opportunities. Of course. How politically astute, but how criminally deceptive.

The NCLB law has hurt my students in many ways. As Mr. Crawford pointed out, it has narrowed the curriculum. Here's one example: I used to give my first graders lots of time exploring computers during computer lab time. They learned how to access the Internet and how to write and print stories and letters on Microsoft. However, now that we are in School Improvement, everyone must be on software for English learners for a half hour each day, EVEN THOUGH 50% OF MY STUDENTS ARE FLUENT IN ENGLISH! The principal does not want the children on the Internet or "wasting paper" by printing stories. Now when I announce "computer time," the children groan. I know I'm doing the wrong thing by insisting that they use the deadly computer software, but a teacher can be fired for insubordination. That's a powerful threat, even to a teacher two weeks from retirement. Of course, all the suburban seven-year-olds are computer literate; no low-level software for them.

NCLB has made school a joyless place for my students (even Head Start toddlers have phonics readers!). It has caused non-English speakers to feel like academic failures. Most important is the fact that this law has provided my students with nothing extra: No special books for English learners, no reading specialist, no instructional aides, nurses, social workers or field trips. In fact, I would have to say that my students have less than they did five years ago when I had the support of a reading specialist and an aide for three hours a day. I don't even have readers designed to help English learners. Instead, the children have to read texts designed for native speakers. As a reading specialist, I am very familiar with reading materials that make learning to read easier for my students, but I am not able to obtain these books. Even if I bought them myself, I would not be permitted to use them because "everyone has to have access to core materials." In my opinion, the readers we have ("research-based") are the worst possible materials for English learners (e.g."The gulls strut on the strip.")

NCLB has depressed our youngest and brightest teachers, who are now desperately trying to find jobs in affluent districts. It has made experienced teachers doubt themselves. As one teacher put it, "This is the first time in my career that I have questioned my ability." She no longer comes to school early and now "leaves with the kids."

As for the tests: Teachers are just drilling the kids on specific test items so of course these tests have absolutely no validity. They are just a huge waste of taxpayer money. We don't know whether students are improving or not. (How would students do on the SAT if everyone knew what was on it?) I'm appalled that so many scholars are basing "research" on these tests.

The bottom line: NCLB has not provided anything extra for my students. And, as Mr. Crawford points out, the children of my affluent friends and relatives continue to get their music,art, science, social studies and P.E. classes. What those schools have are "development funds" and educated parents to volunteer each day. Provide some of these same conditions for poor children and we will truly begin to see the achievement gap start to close.

I have confidence in the intelligence of the American people. They know that "closing the gap" will require providing equal opportunity for all children, although they might not want to pay for it. I'm certain that this disgraceful attempt to fool citizens into thinking that we can improve education by testing children will backfire badly on the Bush administration. He should have listened to his wife, who had this to say when someone asked her about her experiences as a school librarian: "I learned that life is not fair."

NCLB has significantly decreased opportunities for those with 'hidden' disabilities, such as learning disabilities and emotional disorders. Because these disabilities do not show all the time, students often do not receive the services they deserve, and continue to fall further and further behind. Every decision has intended and unintended consequences. I prefer to perceive this infringement upon my students' civil rights as an unintended consequence of NCLB. Since students with these types of disabilities make up from 5-10% of the population, the results of NCLB are discriminatory and in direct contradiction with the IDEA and empirically based best practice. Hidden behind rigorous instruction and high accountability is inequality, intentional or not.

NCLB has not really made education any less equitable. Education has, so far, never been truely equal to all students. NCLB does not make education any more equitable by standardizing assessments or by vague standards. Truthfully, NCLB does very little for or against education. It is merely a set of conditions placed on Federal funding that has, to date, never been fully budgeted. If the Federal Government wants out of education, they should just say so and get out. Quite frankly, they haven't done a whole lot and I, for one, would say ,"Don't let the door hit you in the backside on your way out."

To paraphrase Mr. Crawford a bit, NCLB does little, if anything, to ensure educational equity for anyone.

No Child Left Behind has closed the achievement gap. We no longer have students that exceed. All we have are students that are average. I am like the other teachers. I use to stay after school, come to work early and enjoyed my job. Today I walk in right before school starts. I leave when the day is over. I do not try to make my lesson enjoyable because they tell us what to teach and how to teach it. I feel like nclb has make it where a teacher does not need to be certified. Anyone can teach.

NCLB is exactly like virtually every other "government program" to make life better. It tells us what we need, what we want and that we will like it when we get there. It uses the power of the federal checkbook which no state will challange because to our state governments, federal dollars is cash flow...and they all live and die with cash flow. Federally mandated and gruelingly minutia oriented NCLB cannot succeed and has pretty much proven itself to be a just another government spending program. It cannot succeed because it approaches education in the most backwards manner. It cannot succeed because while it appears address highly qualified teachers, does little to ensure that great teachers are the core of the education process and mediocre teachers are forced out of the educational process. NCLB is based on the assumption that the federal government and the rule writers know what is best in the individual classroom snf for the individual student. There is no possible way that attitude can create a great learning environment or experience for children. NCLB doesn't get the fact that life is not always fair and that to make the educational process "equal", it creates massive inequity for many student...the highly driven, focused, parent supported student. We have taken the education decision making process out of the classroom and make education the whore to continue to get the federal dollar (the cash flow thing again). This cannot get better until states wise up and see that each state can provide a good educational environment for children with state dollars along. The hidden costs of using the federal checkbook to balance state budgets is the most costly, inefficient and ineffective form of education in the market place. States need to reclaim education and focus on making great teachers, eliminating poor teachers, increasing protected instructional seat time based on the childs educational need, not what is mandated by Daddy washington. It is the states call. It will not get better until we tell Washington...thanks but no thanks. We will make our own classroom rules.


This Article in the New York Times 6/7/2007 is how this admininistration is beginning its snow job on the American People. I wish what all of you are saying here could be in our newspapers across this nation. You are the experts, and not The Center on Education Policy, an independent Washington group.

The NCLB is a start to improve education for all children, such as, low income children, high-functioning autistic children, and children just needing a little help to catch-up. Your children are my children, and my children are your children; therefore, we have the responsibility to educate all children. Many children are left-behind because they are maybe a little slower to catch on than others; however, with proper help these children can suceed just as others do. Have a heart---reach out and help---do the right thing!

No, Luke, No Child Left Behind is not even a start, in fact it is more of a step backward from school improvement. NCLB has, so far, failed to even produce research based methods to improve education. The Act has, in fact, ignored the research and set into place mandated "quick fixes" that are primarily outcome based. It is like a chemist that mixes two familiar chemicals and then announces the result as if it is some novel, or magical accomplishment. The Department of Education will claim success because test scores will rise. Test scores will rise for many reasons, but the NCLB Act does not mandate curriculum reform or any sort of reform at all. It mandates test score improvement. That is like setting a national speed limit of 55 mph and saying, there, the highways are now safe. Test scores will rise because students will get better at taking tests. The Department of Education will get what they want, better test scores and schools will get what they need, federal funding, but education will not be reformed or improved to any maesurable degree.

James Crawford is right on the mark here. It's amazing to me that Ted Kennedy and George Miller don't recognize and resonate to the thrust of his argument. I want to suggest a friendly amendment to one of his points: It is indeed true that NCLB has improverished education for disadvantaged kids, but it has also impoverished education for millions of advantaged kids. Very few districts and schools are immune to testing pressures and the distortions the pressures create (e.g., horrendous amounts of test prep, various types of narrowing of the curriculum).

One thing that is too frequently overlooked is that No Child Left Behind did not really begin just recently. The roots of ESEA and Title I funding to improve education for low income and minority children go back to the 1960s.

The initial thinking responded to exactly what we are hearing from many teachers today. The problem is that the poor kids have lots of problems and we need more resources to deal with them. The funding (or something else in the environment that happened concurrently) resulted in a brief increase in outcomes (measured by test scores) through the 70s and some closing of the gap between the achievement of affluent/poor and majority/minority. Then there was a leveling, a drop and a widening of the gap in scores.

While I have a background in education, and have served some staff time in schools, I come at this from the perspective of a tax payer and the parent of minority children. I have to ask--what are we getting for our money, why, and what can the government do to change that situation? Constitutionally the federal government cannot do much to mandate the state's role in education--just as it was limited in what it could do to change the shameful disenfranchment of blacks in this country. What it has been able to do--for the good of the country (as I believe it is NOT good for the country to continue to have groups of citizens destined for less opportunity than others), is to provide funding with contingencies related to some constitutionalities.

No Child Left Behind upped the ante on those contingencies. States that take Title I dollars (intended to provide increased educational equity) need to demonstrate some progress in that direction. Both the genius and the weakness is that much is left to the states to define. Each sets its own standards, assessments, proficiency levels and defines its own trajectory toward 100% proficiency. Yet, the required participation in NAEP provides a check against the "race to the bottom." States can take the low road--but everyone knows.

Various states also hand enormous control to the districts--choosing curriculum, planning their own improvement, etc. Personally, I find this to be very inefficient--but it does respond to a particularly American sentiment that the folks in Washington, the folks in the state capital, or even the folks "downtown," don't understand our kids, our neighborhood, our school.

Even with really vast amounts of freedom, schools where many students don't succeed have chosen very little in the way of change. Studies show that few reform efforts reach the level required (I believe that Michigan found it took about 5 concurrent initiatives to turn a school around) for improvement. Meanwhile, teachers complain that they can't (or won't) teach because there are too many people telling them the wrong things to do.

No one likes the medical comparison--but would you want to go to a doctor who doesn't do any tests (see how Linda's son suffered from undiagnosed diabetes because the test wasn't performed), because he knows his patients. Or the one who is doing things the same way as 20 years ago, because things haven't changed so much? Would you feel safe if you knew that your hospital didn't keep records of your care because they were just meaningless paperwork?

Doctors have gripes too--my dad was a doctor and I recall the opposition to Medicare (why should the government tell me how much I can charge?). But the end result has been a dramatic change in the poverty rate among the elderly in this country--not to mention a steady source of income to hospitals and other medical providers. I am frightened by the many angry voices of teachers I read here. I still have a child in school.

Perhaps it's time for some positive comments so we don't frighten too many parents. Many educators are not happy with the current changes because we feel they have very negative (and possibly unintended) consequences for our students. However, most of us want change too and we certainly believe that the gap can be narrowed for the poor. Here's what I'd like to see:

Community centers in low-income areas. These centers would remain open for the entire day and combine social and educational services for parents and children. For example, a mother and her newborn baby would go to the center for "well-baby" checks and parenting classes. Toddlers could attend very high quality preschools where they'd learn English and get nutritious meals. Again, parents would be encouraged to attend. Ideally adults would be helped to get adequate housing and jobs but I know that's a pie in the sky. They would have the opportunity to work and study in order to improve the economic situation of their families. School-age children would attend school at the Community Center for the usual hours, but the classes would have fewer than 15 students and highly qualified teachers. These teachers would be paid extra for their ability to accelerate the learning of at-risk children. The curriculum would be very balanced, rigorous and ENRICHED. After regular classes, students would enjoy many of the experiences that their privileged counterparts take for granted: conversation with adults, sports, exploration with construction toys and computers, read-alouds, trips to libraries and museums. Medical personnel and social workers would be available to attend to students' emotional and health problems. Nutritious meals would be served. In my opinion, it is these outside experiences (or lack of them) that are most responsible for the "gap." We must be willing to support poor families if we expect their children to have an equal opportunity at a good education. Teachers alone can't do it.

I DO agree that tests are necessary. How else would we know how students are progressing? Taxpayers have a right to know that schools are doing the jobs they were paid to do. However, the tests must be valid and reliable. I'd like to see a national test (National Assessment of Educational Progess is OK with me) that is changed each year so no one knows what's on it. Ideally teachers would not give the test to their own classes (Teachers are very honest people, but too much pressure will cause almost any one to "fudge.") I'd like the test to be "wide-range," so that a child who is many years below grade level would have a few test items to show that he has made progress during the year. Perhaps such a test is not possible but we do need a way to fairly test the sixth grade child who is at a second grade level in reading (There are many such children in urban schools).

Fully professional teachers. Americans need to set high standards for public school teachers and then allow these people the freedom to do their jobs. Highly intelligent and competent people will not accept jobs that limit their ability to make informed decisions.

My advice for people who have children in school now: Shop around and do whatever you can to get your child into a school that is alive with joyful learning. Sadly, this school will probably be a school in a suburban setting.

In conclusion teachers DO want change but we want to feel successful in what we are doing.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing has helped to expose the denial of special education services and programs that are inadequate and inappropriate. Year after year parents are told based on teacher beliefs the child’s IEP program being provided by the school is a free appropriate public education (FAPE). When a parent goes to due process hearing they lose because school staffs word is always considered the truth because they are the professionals. Now comes NCLB testing that can’t be altered or made up. So what do school districts do now? Have classified special education children exempted from NCLB testing or withhold the test results from the parent to justify denying services to the child and conceal the child is not on grade level.

Child Find and early intervention are the foundation of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. School districts violating IDEA are allowed to delay standard testing and evaluations for years. School district requirements against IDEA law demanding a child must fail a minimal of one to two school years, require a child to fail the NCLB testing first and/or require teachers to spend years doing interventions based on teacher feels might work instead of therapy, methodologies and technologies known to help children with disabilities results with children being years behind grade level by the 3rd grade.

We end up with children made educationally retarded. Without appropriate therapy, methodologies and technologies these made educationally retarded children are never able to obtain their grade level. Results here in Florida these children are dumped in mental retardation/emotional disturbed classes with the belief making a child fail they will succeed in becoming a dropout. These children are 15 to 16 years old by 7th and 8th grade and dropout of school so that they never are counted in the drop out rate. Results the school does not have bad dropout rates because they are getting rid of the disabled, minorities and poor children before they ever reach high school. This system saves the school districts a lot of money. Shows how the gatekeepers are doing a great job in America to oppress and deny the disabled, minority and poor children from ever obtaining higher education.

I'd like to share a view from the trenches, or inside, of public ELL education and testing. I teach high school ELL students,typically after they have passed their Beginning level ESL English classes. As a result, they read at a lower-to-mid elementary school level. I have also taught "mainstream" science classes.

While working with ELL's has special joys and rewards, it also comes with significant challenges. Prep time per class is typically almost double that required for a mainstream class. In my experience, a larger portion of my ELL students than mainstream students have learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and other impediments to their learning. However, due to cultural taboos, family issues, and confusion over language vs. other contributors to these students' challenges, few are evaluated for and moved to Special Ed. Thus, not only am I designing curriculum to meet individual language learning needs, I must also consider Special Ed-level needs. Lessons typically include more enhanced visual support, hands-on (kinesthetic) activities, and review activities emphasizing a variety of learning styles. Appropriate ELL materials are nearly non-existent at the high school level, so I must modify either mainstream or elementary-level materials, or create my own. Interaction with individual students is far more frequent and intensive than in a mainstream class. And I am expected to accomplish this with larger classes (more students)than in Special Ed.

Add to these demands the fact that ELL programs in many schools and districts are treated as the "overlooked stepchild". Resources needed to effectively teach this population are simply not available, or not funded. I typically have the smallest classroom with no windows, lab space, or storage space. I have to beg and borrow lab equipment from mainstream teachers. This takes time. On top of this, many ELL teachers have a heavier course load (teach more, different classes than mainstream teachers). This past year, I taught a different subject every period of the day. I'm so overloaded, that I will admit, on ocassion, to NOT planning and prepping a learning-enhancing kinesthetic activity. I work an average of 65 hours per week, including all evenings and many weekends. And I stay awake at night worrying that my students aren't fully getting the education they need and deserve.

Many of my students are also from very low-income homes with only one parent, with the associated issues several of you have discussed.

Add NCLB testing requirements to this. Within the limitations I describe above, I'm expected to raise the lowest-performing students' test scores proportionately more than that of any other students in the school. I'm expected to do a more phenomenonal (many read impossible) job, with far fewer resources. My administration tracks test scores and grades by teacher, and asks for a teacher-formulated action plan if there are significant low (or "not proficient") scores.

I made a career change into teaching eight years ago, partly because I wanted to help young people develop into the kinds of adults they, and their families, could be proud of. I also desired to share the fascinating world of real (not just textbook) science, and help my students broaden their minds and life experiences. I am struggling daily to more narrowly "teach to the test" and provide math and science education they can access, that is also meaningful to each student. No wonder some students aren't motivated. Some days it feels the unnecessary obstacles are too overwhelming to attempt to surmount. There is no time to explore real science with students, or to implement fun and kinesthetic, but very time-consuming math projects. The pressure is on daily to cover standardized test curriculum and improve scores.

When I'm feeling caught between test scores and real learning, I ask myself, "What is the right thing to do by my kids?" And I try to access my heart and soul as well as my intellect. That helps center me and reconnect with my kids, but after eight years of dealing with this seldom-win situation, I am concerned that I am burning out.

The students who need to learn our language must first do, just that. How are they expected to read more books about other subjects, if they can not read the language... the initial barrier. I can see your frustration, so how can this problem be solved? Provide them with more of the other subjects including the arts, in english? or their native language?

You bring up the age-old ELL debate: which comes first, English mastery, then subject area curriculum, or development of concurrent knowledge and skills?

It is beyond an academic language issue for many of my students; it is also a cultural issue. This is true even for many U.S. born children. For example, approximately 15% of my students are Native Alaskan from small villages. (I teach in AK). So, even if they can mechanically read English and tell you what each word means, they frequently have challenges connecting the text to any day-to-day meaning.

For this reason, and to support students whose English literacy is very limited, it is extremely important for academic texts to have many visual cues (charts, diagrams, pictures, etc.). In my opinion, there is a nearly wide-open textbook market for high school-level textbooks written at a lower literacy level (shorter, simpler sentences, more present tense, etc.)with heavy visual support. I've found such texts at the 6th-7th grade curricular level, but not for high school.

It is also important for textbooks to be edited for regional needs. Many are written in CA or TX. Students in Minnesota, the Ozarks, or AK might have trouble connecting with the given examples. Then there are children from outside the U.S. or the most remote parts of the U.S.: I've taught students just arrived from Iraq, Afganistan, various African, Asian, and Latin American nations, Albania, Russia, and rural Alaskan villages, to name a few.

To answer your questions, I think it is appropriate to sequester elementary school ELL kids in intensive, multiple-period English instruction (along with math instruction to maintain and enhance those skills). I also think it is appropriate for 100% non-English speaking teenagers to spend the first year of their enrollment in U.S. schools in intensive, multiple-period English instruction. This makes for an immersion experience which, according to much past research, tends to allow for rapid English acquistion. However, in most students, this works most effectively within a fairly early "window", say by age 9. And it works most effectively with students who are already fully literate in their first language. The reality of the situation is that many students who come to us are NOT. Their parents typically dropped out of elementary school in their home country and have extremely limited literacy in their home language. So, academic English acquisition can take longer than anticipated.

When the student immigrates during high school, or first attempts to learn English at that time, the situation becomes more complex. Some students learn English very quickly. For many others, however, it is much more difficult than it would have been in elementary school for several reasons. First, the developmental window for language acquistion has narrowed considerably. Second, high school level curriculum is far more complex than elementary school curriculum. So the student must not only "catch up" in English comprehension, he or she must also handle complex concepts written at a higher and more academic level.

Do we hold teenagers back from taking subject-area classes until they are fluent in English? This typically takes 4-5 years. Then, the students would need to pass their subject area classes. Do we make exceptions to maximum graduation ages? Or do we shuttle these 20-23 year olds off to adult school to take their subject area classes with the possibility of a G.E.D.?

I'm not certain what the best solution(s)is or are. I do know, however, that the extreme choices (not allowing students to take subject area classes until they are English fluent, or teaching the entire curriculum in their first language)are not advisable or workable.

Some type of phased compromise plan seems most feasible and fair. For example, once 14-20 year old students demonstrate, say, a 4th or 5th grade-level reading comprehension, writing, and speaking fluency, enroll them in "sheltered" subject area classes that are highly language-intensive (history, English, biology, etc.). Currently, our district will enroll students tested as "Limited English Proficient" (can be as low as 2nd grade-level fluency) in "sheltered" classes. Other classes are less language-intensive(physics, chemistry, math, art, music, etc.). Students could be placed in these mainstream classes according to their math skills and interest, at somewhat lower literacy levels. Some sort of additional support, such as tutoring help, would need to be available, though.

Speaking of tutoring, easy and frequent access to qualified tutors is essential for ELL students. Many need assistance with not only English interpretation and curricular tutoring, but also assistance with developing effective study skills.

I believe that many students could benefit from having a mentor, a fellow ELL student who has been in the program a few years longer than the student in question. Some students find these relationships informally and on their own. Others, who are shier, more isolated, or from cultures that value personal privacy, could benefit from a more formal arrangement.

Should students be instructed in their first language? I don't believe so, at least not in the majority of instruction. Besides, I've sometimes had 20 different languages represented in my classroom. How could first-language instruction be workable? However, I will admit to using a few words of the student's first language (if I am familiar with it) to "bridge" vocabulary and/or concepts the student seems to be having difficulty accessing in English. I then write, pronounce, and have the student pronounce the word(s) in English. This seems to "turn the lightbulb on" and speed learning.

School districts and schools themselves need to include ELL students in more of the school's culture as a whole. This includes involving them in information dissemination, activities, and honors. It also includes making access to materials, equipment, facilities and supplies on par with that of mainstream students. ELL needs can equal those of special ed students in many cases. We have quite a few "dual" students. Administration and society as a whole need to recognize that, as with special ed students, those who are not provided access to resources that meet their needs are more likely to drop out of school and become a burden on taxpayers. Four of my students (all sophomores) did exactly that last year. And the ELL population in our country is growing rapidly.

Finally, this equity needs to be extended to assigning ELL teachers with subject area expertise equal to that of mainstream teachers. Also, school systems need to put the same maximum-preps (maximum number of subjects taught per day)policy in place that applies to mainstream teachers. Our students need and deserve access to expert teachers who have adequate time for lesson preparation, rest, and renewal.

Thanks for bringing up these issues.

The concept behind NCLB is wonderful, but the implementation is not. Anyone who truly understands what makes for a good education knows that it cannot be measured on a standardized test. Making performance on a single test the driving force behind a child's education is a sure way to end our ability to teach children about creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
To use Margo's medical analogy, how would doctors perform if their diagnosis and prescriptions were legislated? How would they rate if 100% of their patients had to have perfect blood pressure and lab results despite preexisting conditions? Would that provide an accurate picture of how well the doctor was performing?
What good are teachers as professionals if they are not allowed to teach in the way that they know is right? Accountability is good, but only if it is valid for the set goal....
PS I'm not worried about parents being fearful, they should be afraid. NCLB testing is killing what was good in public education.

I haven't found a teacher yet who doesn't say that the NCLB Act has impacted their classroom in a negative way for students and teachers. Yet, there is consideration of reauthorizing NCLB in Congress. It is now mandated by the Federal Government, but underfunded, so the schools have to buy those blinkity blank tests, that are narrowing the thinking in their classrooms, out of their own over-strapped bugdets. Madness pure madness! Melissa, fearful parents without information are a further havoc to the school. Their fear will turn to anger. They will blame the teachers, and we certainly don't need that.

Parents and teachers need to get together on this issue and refuse to give up their rights as educators and as parents of the children involved.
We can't just talk! It is as though we are caught in a trap and can't get out. We can get out, but we have to refuse to just take it! Kids are being
hurt and public education is gone. In public education all have a VOICE. Now we have none to a law that we must change for the good of this nation. Write George Miller and Ted Kennedy and others.

I am not in favor of being told I am not performing in my teaching duties because I have limited english speaking students taking this test and doing poorly. First, understand that English Language Support, in a lot of places such as Colorado, means help for Spanish speakers only. This discriminates against all the Mong, Chineese, Russian etc. students that we have which are also limited english speakers. If we are going to offer to give the state test in Spanish we need to be equal and offer it in every language represented in our districts. Second, I think we need a national test that is the same in every state. This would allow us to also create a tracking system to track those limited english speaking students for a period of a coupld of years until they have become proficient in english. Then hold me accountable for their scores. But don't penalize me, our school, and all of the other students for those who haven't even had time to acquire the language. There may be those who would say that there is a period when those students are exempt, but that is not what always happens. I worked in a district in Colorado teaching 3rd grade, I had a student who had been in the country for 2 weeks before he had to take the Colorado Student Achievement Performance test (CSAP). This is not right.

I am disappointed in both the simplistic analysis of NCLB act given by James Crawford and many of the comments submitted in this column. Instead of seeing that NCLB is a bold step forward that needs continued tweaking, he and many in the educational establishment merely want to “throw out the baby with the bath water” and go back to having no accountability for schools and school districts. Schools are to be places of education, not merely baby-sitting and excuses. The only way to evaluate the success of an education program is to test the results and assess what are the students learning as benchmarked against set learning standards.

I am not a school teacher. Yet I am not uninitiated to education since I have a bachelors of science degree with a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science plus a masters of science degree in Statistics. In addition, I see the results of today’s education system since I work in the high-tech computer industry and make hiring choices on candidates coming out of today’s education system. Too often, the professional educators argue for teaching a “well rounded” curriculum including arts and science to poorly performing foreign language students rather than spending time to really accelerate the learning of English and math so they can really perform in society. As a result, the student is carried along from grade to grade without having to learn the key knowledge areas (the so-called “three R’s”). Instead of teaching the basics like reading, writing & math, the nay-sayers represented by Mr. Crawford decide to water down science and choose to depend on weak science like watching simple shows seen on Animal Planet (no math involved as would be required to truly understand Chemistry or Physics). Or they water down history and social studies and choose to merely watch films instead of doing real reading and analysis of major points of history and government structure choices (would require teaching real reading and writing skills).

As I see it, there are three critical skills that students must become proficient in before they can move forward to other subjects. Those skills are English reading, English writing and math. All other subjects must take a back seat to efforts to catch up in these critical foundational subjects. If schools fail to address these skills for their students, then they have done a real disservice to the students and to American society. For those students that are new to this country and don’t understand English, too many in the educational establishment would want to keep them in poverty by not teaching them English and instead giving them a crutch of continued classes in Spanish. However, it is interesting to see that newly arrived students that do not speak Spanish (like the “Mong, Chineese, Russian etc.” spoken of by the teacher Cindy) are forced to quickly learn English and actually perform better in school, eventually get better jobs, and become better integrated into American society.

NCLB testing has started with an emphasis on reading, writing and math. From the previous discussion, I support this emphasis, but I am pleased that later years have now added some science testing as well. I agree that the current NCLB implementation needs tweaking, but the answer does not lie in getting rid of testing altogether. Instead, we need to move forward in the testing toward measuring student growth – not just where they are today. Schools should be evaluated based on how they progress their students in key skills, and they should not be penalized because some students are new to America and currently lack English skills or because some students moved from weaker schools elsewhere. Instead, the schools should be graded on how those at grade level continue to progress to the next grade level’s skills and how those below grade level are accelerated in growth to catch up to grade level. Student scores and growth should be tracked at a state level or even national level. Emphasis in scoring should be weighted toward the key fundamental skills (reading, writing and math) but should include science and historical knowledge as well. Through appropriate weighting of results, schools should have incentives to focus on fundamental skills first and then use those skills to branch out and apply reading and writing to history and social studies and apply math to science and economics subject areas.

Most students that don’t do well on the standardized tests because teachers have turned to baby-sitting and watching movies instead of teaching good reading skills, grammar, writing, math (including word-problems), etc. I see papers graded with A’s that have no teacher comments on terrible essay organization, terrible grammar, etc. At least correct the papers and have the students re-write the essays to achieve an “A” quality submission. These seem to be the same teachers that fear standardized tests because they show that they have not been actually teaching the skills that are important.

My point: Don’t give up standardized testing, but improve the testing to assess and reward schools for successful programs that speed student growth in key fundamental skills that will carry the student toward educational and career success in the future. By the way, test taking will always be a part of a college education, so test taking skills are also worthwhile teaching. The NCLB implementation should be improved to not penalize the individual teacher or school that receives a weak student. Instead, the teacher and the school should be evaluated on what growth that teacher and school is able to stimulate in the students they have toward learning and doing better in the future.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Monrad / Parent and School Board Member: I am disappointed in both the simplistic analysis of NCLB read more
  • Cindy/Teacher: I am not in favor of being told I am read more
  • Deanna Enos/Teacher Nobody Left Behind/ One Child's Story About Testing: I haven't found a teacher yet who doesn't say that read more
  • Melissa Angel Student Teacher Supervisor: The concept behind NCLB is wonderful, but the implementation is read more
  • Patty, High School ELL Math and Science Teacher: You bring up the age-old ELL debate: which comes first, read more




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