Saturday, December 15, 2007

School Daze

If you pay attention to news stories about the New Haven public school system, there's one phrase that pops up pretty much every time: No Child Left Behind.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which you can -- and should -- read about at the source, is criticized incessantly by school officials, from teachers to the superintendent.

They complain that the act forces schools to spend all their time "teaching to the test," at the expense of arts, culture ... and recess.

They complain that the act forces schools to maintain a high standard -- and high performance -- but does not provide extra money.

Some states, Connecticut one of them, even tried legal action against the federal government over this act.

I like the No Child Left Behind Act, I think it was one thing I am happiest for from the Bush administration.

Here's why:

The No Child Left Behind Act is an effort by the government to force abysmal schools to show to the public what they are doing with the millions of dollars they take each year from the state and federal governments.

Taxpayers are getting beat twice for education, and yet only about half the kids in the country are getting educated.

The act forces schools to recognize that rich or poor, black or white, it doesn't take just money to put a kid in a desk and have someone who knows something about something to tell a kid something and have that kid remember it.

In fact, it doesn't take a lot more than an effort on the part of the student and the teacher.

The teacher should make the effort or face losing their job. The kid should make the effort or face a bleak future, period.

The No Child Left Behind Act simply asks a school how they can spend millions and millions of dollars a year on education, and not be providing an education!

If taxpayers are the ones funding education, then I think we should get to make the rules, too. School officials -- like superintendents -- make more than $100,000 a year. That's just too much. I think a school superintendent should make no more than 75,000 a year, period. And teacher shouldn't make more than 60,000.

Now, before anyone jumps down my throat ... I think it should be that way because those are decent wages, and if you get people that really care about the education of the children, then they can deal with that kind of money, especially with the perks. It's more than I make, and I have a good job, so if I can live on it, so can they. If they want to choose money over being a teacher, so be it. Go ahead.

If you make it about the money, then you're going to get people that are in it for the money, and then they ktake the money.

And then that's where the money goes.

The biggest complaint seems to be the whole "teaching to the test" blather I keep hearing. So? What the hell is wrong with teaching kids enough that they can pass a test of their crucial cognitive skills?

How is that not automatically labeled the most idiotic concept in the history of the world?

So, what should they be learning how to do in school? Dance? Sing? Be completely inundated with "culture"?

No! They should be learning how to read, how to study, how to answer questions in a literate manner. They should learn to speak English, and add numbers. And if they can't do that then something is wrong.

And if the school system can piss away $25 million to $100 million dollars and not be able to have the majority of kids learn at a normal level, then they're simply not spending the money on the right things.

I'm old enough now to say this:

  • When I was in grammar school, we had no air conditioning, and no cafeteria.
  • We weren't allowed to wear shorts to school. We had a couple of assemblies a year, maybe 2 field trips.
  • Our classes were math, science, history, English, reading, art and music, and recess. That was it.
  • If you did poorly, you failed, and had to go to summer school. If you still failed, you stayed back a grade. No one wanted to stay back a grade because then they would be "the kid who got held back."

Now, it's totally different. School has become something other than school. It's become this place where people think you should make children into little adults where they make their own decisions, and have fun, and enjoy going there. They go there and learn how others live, how people feel differently. They go there and learn how people dance in every frigging continent on the globe.

That's not school. School isn't supposed to be fun, it's supposed to challenge you. You're supposed to go there and learn things, and learning is hard work.

It's easier to give slower kids easier work, because then they finish and you can move on without conflict or difficulty.

Yeah, I know, some of you have kids that are just the smartest things, and they go to school and they love it and have a great experience and are smart. Congratulations, you have a smart kid.

But when you put average and below-average kids in an environment like that, where the if they fail the challenge the challenge is made easier, then they're not going to get smarter, which, hello, is the goal of schooling.

So, no, I don't think the No Child Left Behind Act is detrimental to education, I think it's detrimental to bloated, misguided school systems that need to be revamped. The problem is that the people in power are the ones who should be tossed out, and they won't let that happen.

The most important aspect of the act is that it finally takes money away from failing schools instead of just dumping more money on them. It says to a failing school, "You threw that money out the window. Now, work with less."

It forces a school to restructure itself from the administration down -- if they get rid of the all the crap that has nothing to do with the education part of the education system, there's plenty of money to run a good system and pay to test the kids annually.

School vouchers and the No Child Left Behind Act are perhaps the last chances to make our education systems work.


Anonymous said...

You don't have a child in the school system.

More or less, I agree with this, that schools should teach the basic 3 Rs so that our children are well educated and can write a decent business letter with no misspellings and be able to do multiplication in their heads.

But to my chagrin this school year, I discovered my public school system was pushing the Responsive Classroom. For several weeks at the beginning of the school year, the children sat around and told each other how fabulous they are. This program, according to the web site, is based on the belief that social development is just as important as academics in the school system.

Totally don't agree. But this is the crap that's in the schools.

You also say you're all for teaching to the tests. But wait until you have a child come home with an essay he/she has written and it starts out with BANG! or THUMP! Yes, apparently starting an essay out with a "sound" is what's taught. This is crap. I want my child to learn how to write, not how to spell "sounds."

It's also disconcerting when the teacher sends notes home that are grammatically incorrect and have misspellings. I found out that the teacher this year had never heard of "i before e except after c." She told my child, "What about the word 'receive'?" Which she apparently thought was spelled "recieve."

There are a lot of problems in the school systems today. Maybe it was Whole Language taking over Phonics. Who knows. But it's disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. However, if you go back and read the history of public education, you will understand why where we are is where Horace Mann, John Dewey and a multitude of left-leaning socialists and Marxists planned to take education from the start. They knew it would take time. And it did. Over time the bar has been set lower and the teachers payscale raised, with their skill level plummeting by the year.

You can b**** and moan all you want, but in the end you all must ask yourselves if this is the school system you want your children to be a part of.

It's time to pull you children out of this madness. Think you can't homeschool. Think again. If you know the problems with this system, then you're way ahead in teaching and training your children the way YOU know they should be taught.

If this nation thinks it can keep throwing money at this monster, then we are doomed. Take back your power and your children and we may save this nation yet.

Check us out at

Al said...

Hey wayoutinca ... Thanks for the post.

I've been planning to homeschool for a few years now ... if I can ever afford to have kids!

Seriously, though. My plan is to find several parents with expertise in varying disciplines and create our own homeschool. At the same time, if we can all buy homes in the same neighborhood, we can start a community with common values.

I figure that way, even if it's only 5 or 6 kids, at least they'll get some social activity as well.

Karen Olson said...

Problem with homeschooling is social development. While there are things at school I'd like to keep my daughter away from (mean girl stuff in particular, which we've had a problem with), she does need to navigate this sort of thing through her life and if she's not faced with it now, she'll suffer the consequences of not knowing how to deal with it later on. I can't always protect her, as much as I'd like to.

Also, I do not feel qualified to homeschool. I doubt most parents are. And when you're the parent AND the teacher, that could be difficult in many situations.

As the parent, I try to teach my daughter as much at home as possible. But she is getting things at school that I can't provide, both academically and socially, and I wouldn't want to be her whole life. She needs to learn to be independent outside of us, and school is a good place for that, regardless of some of the s&*t that goes on there.

Anonymous said...

I understand the premise of homechooling from an academic standpoint if you feel you have the qualifications to impart a better eductaion. But what happens when the child wants to go to college and then wants to get a job? Can you shield him from the evils of society and the failure of the educational system then? No, you will have a world full of people that may not share the values you taught to your children. What you can do is be an active part of your child's education in the forum which it is provided. Let them negotiate the roadblocks that exist now, they will only become more complicated and difficult to navigate as time marches on. Instead be vigilant about reading with your child, doing homework together and teaching them what skills you know to be most important from your own experiences. I do not think that a micro-society of homeschooled children is adequate to impart the lessons learned from interacting with a variety of people from the start.

Anonymous said...

Al, you're a wise man to pre-plan the education of your future children. There are many ways to work homeschooling. Check out for
more information.

To the others: Common sense should tell you that if you don't think you can do it alone (and most of us have gaps in our educational expertise)then you seek out those who can fill them. There are may homeschooling groups across the country that do that very thing.

As far as socialization is concerned, it's a red herring.

When parents talk about socialization, what are their children getting socially at school that they can't provide at home. Manners, attitude, a moral/spiritual foundation? Not. And who are the kids interacting with? Mainly their peers. That can never be a good thing as they will be more influenced by who they spend 6-8 hours/day with than by their parents/family.

Why would parents want to send innocent, immature children into a setting where you have no idea what they will have to face. Parents are not there to advise him/her and they certainly can't rely on the teacher to protect each and every student. It's a great disservice we do to our children by throwing them into shark infested waters of the school system and hoping they come out unscathed.

Karin's assertion that because she don't feel qualified to hometeach, then most everybody else probably can't either is not true. There are between 1.7 and 2.1 million children being homeschooled in this country. Those parents found (after some trial and error)that they could do this. We can't let fear keep us from doing what, in the end, is best for our children. These parents also found that they CAN be a parent and teacher. If you have children that have become used to a school building setting, yes they will balk, but if you know it's the best way, you don't let THEM call the shots.

Al said...

I was a lucky kid - I went to school in Ansonia, a pretty no-frills place in the 1970s and '80s.

I had teachers throughout my public school education that, while they made it interesting, pretty much stuck by the script -- accepted standard textbooks and lots of explaining.

Until the 6th grade I had one teacher for all subjects, except gym.

While it may not have been as enjoyable as as people today seem to think school is supposed to be, it was a solid, solid education that prepared me well.

I lived in a stable (most of the time) two-parent household where I learned morals and ethics and about my culture, gender roles and social responsibility.

So my education didn't have to cover that.