Commitment More than Money

Commitment More than Money

  I've read that this is the 10th anniversary of No Child Left Behind. I trust that it's correct. I wasn't really keeping track.  As a review, No Child Left Behind was the federal government's (George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy collaborated) attempt to improve the K-12 educational system in America. It involves a lot of testing to measure reading and math at various grade levels. States run, and design, the programs with federal dollars and federal guidelines.

  Because the basic goal is accountability, schools are graded and grades can include the dreaded F. Students in the bad schools (including dangerous schools) are given an opportunity to move to other schools. The dollars go with them. Hence, the incentives are financial as well as professional. That's a quick summary. It's far more complicated than that. And, after 10 years it remains controversial.

  From what I read, not many people - particularly administrators and teachers - are happy: too much testing and teaching to the test; it's unfair even when taking into consideration the usual race, ethnicity, disabilities, poverty and so forth; the results aren't commensurate with the results; too much paper work; too much interference. From what I've gathered the program brought some early results, but those plateaued. Now, we seem to be getting more debate than results.

  So, what to do? Conservative political critics believe it is too much federal government. The federal government has been messing around with education since the beginning, but with primary and secondary education since the mid-1960s. A lot of dollars, like in the trillions, have been poured into the local systems. It hasn't seemed to help. The answer, conservatives say, is to turn everything back to the states and local districts, like in the old days. Well, there aren't any old days. The days you got are the days you have - now with all its modernisms, including federal aid.

  Liberals want to pour money into the systems. Been there; done that. Hasn't worked. Definition of stupidity or insanity: doing same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Money may help, but only in combination with a dozen other things. No, there's enough money.

  The problem is the problem; the problem being that we're still turning out too many children who can't read, write, or compute commensurate with modern needs. The number is large and it accumulates. The problem becomes larger as we ruminate about what to do. It affects our work force, our crime rates, our prisons, and our finances. Federal representatives want to tweak NCLB so it will be more effective, or, at least more pleasing to more people. That's not likely to do much.

  The problem is that it's not a matter of money or legislation, but a matter of commitment on all levels starting with parents and the students. Ho-hum attitudes of too many students (make me learn) is a problem. So is the problem of low expectations of the students. Parents, teachers and administrators need to increase the load and expectations of the students. They can do more than they're doing or being asked to do. My personal opinion, having shepherded seven children through various systems is that education is just not a public priority. Sports may be, or socializing, or self-esteem, or fitting in. But not learning. 

  What if we expected of students what coaches expect of their players or participants? What if we made all students work as hard, practice as hard, as athletes do? What if we treated teachers as we do coaches? What if we gave the same recognition to intellectual achievements as we give to sports? Sports is not the only example. Think about band, chorus, or theatre. Expectations are high, practices strenuous, commitment strong.

  I write, "commitment", but its companion is discipline. Without discipline, no one can excel in those activities. And certainly, without discipline, learning can't take place. Discipline is more important than facilities. 

  Education may be a right of all citizens, but it's really a privilege and an opportunity. No one can make you learn, teachers can only help you learn. Too many students seem to be going into the system with the belief that they have a right to a diploma, that school's a free journey and a free ride for twelve years and requires no more than hanging on for the ride. We build and maintain the schools, provide transportation to them, provide the teachers and extra-curricular activities, and even food.

  Certainly we need top notch administration, creative teachers, and, yes, dollars. Accountability was the purpose of NCLB, but without committed parents and students, and a change in attitude from "it's my right" to "it's my privilege, my opportunity and my responsibility", nothing much will change.