I recently had this article published on Commentarista.com about No Child Left Behind, but specifically about High Stakes testing.
Here’s another article about NCLB in general, explaining why I left the teaching profession.
I spent 4 ½ years in college to become a special education teacher. I had passion and drive. I loved kids, and I loved teaching. I graduated with degrees in Elementary Education, Special Education, and Psychology. Eight years later, when I was ringing up customers at Rite Aid and would tell people about my education, they would inevitably say, “What the $&@! are you doing here?!”
My answer was always the same, “I couldn’t stomach the politics.”
Sometimes they would nod, and it would end there. Sometimes they would make the mistake of asking me more questions, and the tirade would begin!
I was a resource room teacher for students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. My job was to take students from their classes once a day for either language or math. These were kids with learning disabilities, intelligent kids that just needed that little extra help in one or two subjects. Essentially, I had 35 students to see every day in my classroom. I had 6 periods in which to do it. My students came from 12 different classrooms. Oh, and don’t go thinking I had it was easy because I could just pull a couple of kids from the same classroom at the same time. Johnny from Ms. Clark’s 2nd grade class was on the same reading level as Samantha from Mr. Johnson’s 1st grade class. Of course, they didn’t teach language at the same time.
I argued for weeks with my supervisor over the services that needed to be provided for my students. I very adamantly stressed that I could not do it alone. We needed another K – 5 resource room teacher. She decided that the best course of action was for me to abandon the resource room and visit my students individually in their classrooms. It’s a great concept that’s not so great in practice. Instead of one on one or small group help, these kids would now be getting a few minutes of me hovering over their shoulders trying to help them understand what was being taught to the rest of the class.
Here’s a real exchange I had with my supervisor:
Me: What about Jared? His class is learning long division. He’s nowhere near ready for long division.
Supervisor: He’s in 4th grade. He needs to learn long division.
Me: But he doesn’t know how to add and subtract. He needs to learn how to add and subtract before learning how to do long division.
Supervisor: No Child Left Behind says he needs to stay on level with his peers. A good teacher should be able to give him supports to help him learn long division.
Me: He needs to learn to add and subtract first. How can I possibly teach him to do long division if he can’t add and subtract?
Supervisor: Give him supports, like a calculator.
I stopped listening after that.
This was my ongoing struggle. No Child Left Behind. It sounds great, right? Of course we don’t want our children left behind. Of course, we want our schools to improve. So what’s wrong with holding schools more accountable? When you set the same goals for all students, you forget that each student is an individual.
There are a lot of children like Jared. There are a lot of very smart kids who have fallen through the cracks because they don’t learn the same way as their peers. That is, after all, what it means to have a learning disability. No Child Left Behind states that all students must test on the same level for math and language. How is that even possible?
Part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that students need to be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE). What that means is that a child with a disability should be integrated with non-classified students as much as possible. In other words, don’t put a child with a learning disability in a class for students with severe disabilities. This is exactly what happened when I pushed for my students to have more than those few minutes of me hovering over their shoulders. I fought for my students’ rights and they ended up worse off.
I was a young, idealistic, fresh-out-of-college teacher. I wanted to change the world. It only took 4 short weeks to show me just how ugly that battle was. There have always been fights in what’s right for the education of our children. As far as I’m concerned, No Child Left Behind takes the cake. I may have left the teaching profession, but my passion for education has never dwindled. It’s time for this 10 year reign to end. It’s time to teach our kids as individuals, not as identical parts of the majority.