Leaving Children Behind. (Commentary).(US Educational Policy)

Article excerpt

In January 2002, the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law. This legislation aims to "improve overall student performance and close the achievement gap between rich and poor students." No Child Left Behind focuses on school accountability, higher standards for students, and some of the very measurements educational evaluators advocate from coast to coast.

In addition to recognizing the positive aspects of this legislation, however, it also seems prudent to be concerned about what the national legislation lacks. The concern is that measurement alone will not bridge the learning gap that exists between children from homes of various socioeconomic levels.

The introduction to this legislation states that "In America, no child should be left behind. Every child should be educated to his or her full potential." Mandating standards and tests in and of itself cannot erase the fact that children from homes where parents have little education and minimal resources have many strikes against them.

* Evidence indicates that the "digital divide" gets larger each day. Children in homes with computers have huge advantages over those without such technology.

* While neurologists have extolled the virtues of high-protein diets for brain growth and development of young children, the economically disadvantaged continue to be plagued with high-carbohydrate diets, even in Head Start and public-school food service programs.

* Evidence indicates that more time on task helps to advance learning. The few efforts to increase the school year have mainly focused on poorly structured remedial summer programs doomed from their inception with the "punishment brand."

A recent report from the Education Trust makes questionable claims that accountability measures alone can improve learning. The organization's slipshod research dumps results from programs for gifted and talented students and magnet schools into unscientifically selected cohort groups. The study also includes schools with single-year incidences of high scores, which researchers label an "anomaly."

Well-meaning political leaders on both sides of the aisle, ranging from President George W. Bush to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, supported the legislation. The fact that these men are both products of privilege and private schools may have something to do with their lack of understanding of the needs of children in poverty. The No Child Left Behind legislation regrettably suffers from many pitfalls that some consultants have introduced to schools as part of the effective schools movement.

It is important to consider a basic thinking fallacy of our public policy leaders in Washington that does not hold up under careful scrutiny. That fallacy assumes that all children can learn at the same level and in the same amount of time. All children can learn, at some level. The late professor Ronald Edmonds of Harvard, founder of the Effective Schools movement, once stated, "Most children can learn the basic curriculum if sufficient resources are provided."

Empirical research does not support the belief that all children can learn the same curriculum, in the same amount of time, and at the same level. The problem with such an unsubstantiated belief is that it may be used to deny differential financial support for those who come to school with environmental disadvantages. …