No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law in 2002. Since then it has dictated what students are to be taught and how they are to be assessed. It is a one-size-fits-all. Teachers are forced to implement lessons on a regimented basis. Like Sisyphus, educators push students harder and higher, only to watch many fall away and fail.
Some kids catch on quickly. Others stumble. Some maintain attention and interest. Others daydream and find lessons meaningless. Once teachers could modify lessons to entice reluctant children into learning. Before NCLB teachers could backtrack and review. Today we are locked into rigid instructional schedules. Before NCLB hands-on experiences made learning exciting. Today we force science, social studies, PE and the arts to the few remaining minutes. Every school day has a singular direction: Keep your eye on those higher test scores.
Visit a classroom to see this in action.
Starting in Kindergarten
Remember kindergarten a few decades back ? It was a major milestone. Kids were ready for the ‘big’ school. Mom and Dad would take us to what promised to be a new world of adventures with new experiences and new playmates. We found a team to construct block cities. We squished finger paint across shiny papers. We pinched lumps of clay, though you were cautioned to avoid eating it. Once in a while my kindergarten class got to venture into the teachers’ lounge where we stood on a stool to stir melting butter and marshmallows and added Rice Krispies to the cooling mixture. We had books to explore. Our metamorphosing caterpillars changed to butterflies. Two or three decades ago we were deemed successful if we managed to write our name, recognize a few letters, count fingers and maybe our toes.
Look at kindergarten today. Children are expected to bring basic skills with them. write their names. recognize letters and sounds. They must listen quietly to teacher directions sometimes for as long as 45 minutes. While once youngsters were expected to be ‘wiggle worms.’ Today’s kids are required to be still and quiet. Along with the academic push, every few weeks each child is formally tested. Has Johnny mastered the targeted consonant sounds? Can he read basic words and match them with pictures?
In every grade the picture is the same. Teachers push as hard as they can. Some kids make it. Some struggle. Too many give up. They master the art of hiding quietly. Teachers never call on them. They fiddle with stuff in their desks and look out the window or poke their neighbor. Dedicated teachers squeeze in remedial work, perhaps during lunch and recess. They tutor before and after school. Still, many children are left behind.
Does the elusive score measure a school’s worth or a youngster’s achievement? How should our educational system direct its resources? Currently we concentrate our time and resources on turning out skilled multiple choice test takers and nothing more. Perhaps tomorrow we can dream of a generation of creative, thoughtful, caring adults.
Rebecca Penso is a Certified Educational Therapist and retired teacher who has worked in many classrooms, including special education and with English learners in LAUSD.