05/15/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama and No Child Left Behind

President Obama is sending his education blueprint to Congress today. But I have to say I am not too impressed. While the proposal calls for more vigorous intervention in "failing" schools, it is still holding onto some key features of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Law, including the focus on test scores.

As I wrote in my recent post, The Case Against Homework: Race to Nowhere, using test scores to measure a student's academic success has caused teachers to focus their teaching on test preparation (aka memorization) rather than engaging their students in meaningful learning.

So I wonder, what is the function of school today?

Once upon a time I thought it was a place to where people could learn about a lot of things, be exposed to different ideas, learn how to solve problems, think critically, collaborate, work as a team and have fun. As a former teacher, I also used to think it was a place to foster children's innate love for learning. However, now with the way things have been going, I wonder if school is school just a place to get accreditation for the job market?

I keep hearing story after story from friends and acquaintances about how their child used to love school, but now with so much homework and the pressure of performing on the tests, they really dread going. Some kids are going so far as to drop out (with the GED looking like a better option).

Is this what we want for the future? Do we really want school be the killer of our kids' love for learning?

Many of us (myself included) keep expecting change from the government, but I think that could mean a long time in the waiting room and we really don't have that time to waste. Our kids and our future are too valuable. And of course, our time is too. Instead, I am going to heed some advice from Vicki Abeles, director of the documentary Race to Nowhere, and take my own actions now.

If you also want to do something now, the following are some suggestions.

Things You Can Do Now:

Attend PTA and board meetings to work in partnership to create a vision for change in your community. Parents and educators can achieve real change in education policies and practices through dialogue.

Challenge homework practices at your child's school. In elementary school, there is no evidence that homework improves academic performance. Too much time spent on homework contributes to anxiety, depression, weight gain, anorexia, and lack of engagement with learning.

Stop grading homework and find ways to assess students aside from tests and homework
. When students have an extrinsic reason for performing, their internal motivation to learn diminishes.

Avoid over-scheduling. Unstructured play and downtime enhances brain development and learning. Play helps children how to deal with adversity and how to overcome problems.

Make sure your kids get adequate sleep. Studies show that 80 percent of adolescents don't get the recommended amount of sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, most teens need about nine hours of sleep and sometimes more. Sleep deprivation impacts cognitive functioning and increases the risk of depression, obesity and suicide.

Eat dinner regularly as a family. Many teens rate not having enough time with their parents as a top concern (surprising). Teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week have few substance abuse problems and do better in school.

Final Note: Every little step we take does count and will make a difference. No kidding.

Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. is a former early childhood classroom teacher at the City and Country School in New York City. She studied at the graduate school of Bank Street College of Education. She currently lives in Santa Monica, CA and is a writer and editor dedicated to breaking the silence on a range of women's issues and amplifying the voices of changemaking women.