Education Made More Successful, No Family Left Behind
During the George W Bush years, the phrase “no child left behind” became a household word. This set of national test score achievement requirements was intended to raise the educational level of America’s schools. A noble and necessary goal.
Not long after the program’s introduction, we began to hear “teaching to the test”. Teachers across the country were diverting valuable class time to, in essence, practicing for the upcoming standardized test. Those teachers whose students scored well were immediately branded outstanding, the type of teacher we all want for our children. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t.
Living in a large city like Philadelphia, one can see a number of different schooling methods. There are public schools whose student population reflect the neighborhood make up. There are also public schools called magnet or charter which draw students from a much larger area, often on a lottery basis. And then there are the private schools. There are faith based schools which sometimes are community oriented. There are private schools like Friends (Quaker but not big on religious education) and there are expensive private schools which serve a wider area collecting those who can afford the education.
We hear regularly that charter schools is the way to go. Teachers are dedicated and enthusiastic (and usually lacking a strong teachers union). Test scores have been actual average and have not yet supported the claim of superiority.
In Philadelphia, Public Schools are ranked annually. There is (surprise, surprise) an amazing correlation with neighborhood income levels or inverse correlation with the percent of students receiving government funded breakfasts. And while there are different levels of outcomes with religious and non-religious private schools, as a group they all do better than most public schools. Why?
The answer must lie in looking at the average student. Bright and gifted children will more often than not succeed in any environment. They tend, however, to go to the “best” public schools and the private school their family can afford.
Most other children, despite what we may think of our own children and grand children, are more likely average or below. For these children, sending them to private schools, charter schools, or public schools in good community sections usually enables them to learn a skill or go on to college. What about the rest of students?
Teachers will tell you a students’ families make a big difference. Do parents come to teacher conferences, are they interested in how their children are progressing, do they want to know how they can help?
In no way does this mean that there is nothing educators can do. It just means that testing all children as a means of trying to raise the whole student population bar ignores a critical factor which does not involve unions, teachers, or the school’s physical plant.
The “no child left behind” while not very imaginative (ie teaching to the test) can only go so far. Educators need to expand their imagination to “no family left behind” and find ways to provide the nurturing support most students receive at home, and unfortunately many do not.