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There’s more to feeding the pig
May 11, 2009
by Jenni Sebora

If you have children in school, or maybe even if you don’t, you most likely have heard of the “No Child Left Behind Act.”

At the core of this federal act are a number of measures designed to improve student achievement and to hold states more accountable for the progress of their students.

By the year 2005-06, states had to begin testing students in grades three through eight yearly in reading and math. By the year 2007-08, students in elementary, middle and high school had to be tested at least once in science. These tests must be aligned with state academic standards.

The biggest and most difficult part of this act, I believe, is that states must bring all students up to a “proficient” level on the state tests by the school year 2013-14. Each school must meet its state’s “adequate yearly progress” targets toward the goal for both its student population as a whole and demographic subgroups.

There are ramifications if these targets are not met. If a school receiving federal Title I funding fails to meet the target for two years in a row, it must be provided technical assistance, and the students given a choice of other public schools to attend.

If a school fails three years in a row, students must also be offered supplemental educational services, including private tutoring. If schools continue to fail, corrective measures may incur, including greater governance changes.

There are also other measures in the area of report cards and teacher qualifications. Every teacher in a core content area working in public school must be “highly qualified,” which means that a teacher is certified and proficient in his or her subject matter. Of course, this certainly sounds like it makes sense.

It certainly sounds good, “no child left behind.” I don’t think there is anyone who wishes for a child to be left behind, whether educationally or in some other area. But as an educator myself, I find it very unrealistic.

Part of this “no child left behind” is that all children must be reading at grade level by a certain year set. Now, anyone involved in the social welfare or psychology arena would more than likely say that those making this law have forgotten about the social and psychological aspects.

Educators work with children, with human beings, not things or items that can be manipulated and controlled with one’s hands. Children are social beings with feelings and emotions, and some children have families that are going through difficult times or may even be dysfunctional. Kids don’t leave all of those things behind when they come to school.

Children may be experiencing divorce in their families or may have had an argument with their parents, but they still have to come to school and do what is expected of them. For some children, school may be their outlet – their safety net, but reading or math may be the last things on their minds when their family may be falling apart.

I had a discussion with a parent of a student I teach regarding testing, and the parent very honestly said that there is far too much testing for students in school and she does not agree with the “No Child Left Behind” Act. She commented that these requirements water down the curriculum, and she feels the act is so unrealistic. Of course, there will be children that “will be left behind” – meaning there will be some that will not be able to read at grade level.

Someone made a comparison to these academic requirements, that a goal of a pig farmer is to fatten a pig; however, if the farmer spends all of his resources and time on buying scales and equipment to weigh the pig instead of resources and time on food and things necessary to help the pig put on weight, then the farmer has been diverted from his true goal. His time, energy and money have not been spent on the true goal.

Schools need to be accountable. We just have to remember that we must be careful about how we spend our precious time and resources. With all of the increased testing requirements, increased time, energy ,and money has been targeted to these areas – thus taking away resources, personnel, and time from actually “feeding the pig” – educating our students.

We are spending more time, energy, and money on “weighing the pig,” which is taking away from the real goal – “fattening the pig.”

Children may come to school with heavy baggage that does not necessarily get dropped at the school door when they enter it.

Policymakers just have to remember when making school policies that yes, we need accountability and high standards, but we must be realistic and remember that schools deal with human beings, not things – the product is not a thing, but a child with feelings, emotions, and social awareness.