08/08/2011 12:09 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2011

All Public Schools Left Behind

Our state test scores were released last week and I did not want to look at them.

If my eighth graders' results were lower than the year before, then the pressure would be on for the whole year to toss aside everything that smacks of sound educational practice and work toward those few hours in the spring, when students' fancy turn toward long, boring passages that read like they were written by the lowest bidder and bubbles sitting in virginal silence waiting to be violated by hordes of number two pencils.

I, like nearly every other classroom teacher I know, long for the days when standardized tests were considered to be just one assessment tool out of many to determine how well students were doing.

A practice test was given in September to give you an idea of what the students needed to know and then you gave the real standardized test in April.

Even that seemed like one test too many, but now I long for those innocent days.

No Child Left Behind started a trickle-down nightmare for classroom teachers across the U. S. First, it set an unattainable goal of all children being proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The task was impossible from the outset. All it took for No Child Left Behind to fail was for one child to have something else on his mind on the day of the test, or a child to be distracted by something horrible that took place at home.

"Oh, it will be changed," I kept hearing. It was just another one of those fads that everyone follows religiously one day than piles on the educational scrap heap the next.

There was something different, however, about No Child Left Behind. It was never an educational plan; it was a radical blueprint designed to change public schools from their lofty position as an incubator of dreams and ambitions to a sacrifice on the altar of accountability. Or, as some have speculated, it was designed to destroy public schools altogether.

With only three years left to go before the goal, and no indication that President Obama and Arne Duncan are any more realistic than their predecessors, the targets are climbing higher and higher. Even when Duncan announced over the weekend that some states would receive waivers from the rigid requirements, those waivers have to be accompanied by the same type of "reforms" that Duncan seems to have borrowed, word for word, from the Bush administration.

So it was with great trepidation that I visited the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website and looked up the scores for my eighth graders.

The number of students who finished in the top two categories, advanced and proficient, stood at 51 percent, up four percent from 2010. Only three percent of our students finished below basic.

In other words, 97 percent of our students, 60 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches, were average or above.


Average doesn't cut it any more.

The only ones who counted were the ones in the top two categories and we fell nearly 24 percent below the 75.5 percent of students who had to be advanced or proficient this year under the standards of No Child Left Behind.

Three-fourths of the schools in Missouri, most of them excellent schools filled with hard working, well qualified teachers, failed to live up to No Child Left Behind.

So there will be more teach to the test, more so-called data-driven instruction, more practice standardized tests and more practice tests for the practice tests.

Our GOP-dominated state legislature will once again debate bills that would eliminate teacher tenure and base all pay on standardized test scores. Apparently, the only numbers our politicians are not listening to are the ones that show that merit pay based on test scores does not work.

More bills will be sponsored to add charter schools at the expense of public schools, and to allow educational vouchers so public money will go to private schools, private schools I might add that will not be required to enroll many of those who are at the lower spectrum of the public schools' grade scale.

And more laws will be introduced to eliminate teacher tenure to make it easier to fire teachers and replace them with idealistic Teach for America types since we all know that experienced teachers are the antithesis of a good education.

If No Child Left Behind is not scrapped, and there is no indication of that being in the works, then we can await a time three years from now when 100 percent of American public schools are labeled failures.

After my initial anger about the futility of battling No Child Left Behind, I began thinking more positively about what my hard-working group of eighth graders had done.

Consider this, if Congress had the scores recorded by my eighth graders, 51 percent advanced or proficient, 46 percent average and three percent below average, we would have jobs, we would not be talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare and not touching tax loopholes and we would be treating public schools and public schoolteachers, the backbone of this country, with the respect they deserve.