TISINGER: Candidates, tell us your plans for No Child Left Behind shortcomings

Schoolboy Writing in Notebook

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Schoolboy Writing in Notebook

Sarah Tisinger

Those who have kept up with the current news in the past few months have read about the failing economy, high gas prices and enough debate over the war in Iraq to almost not want to pick up the paper every day. Each candidate has spoken about these topics and their plans for the future. Unfortunately, there are a few topics that Obama and McCain seem reluctant to speak about publicly.

The No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2002, being one of George W. Bush’s most memorable decisions in office. This act has been disputed since its birth and has continued to be a huge topic among teachers, students and parents affected. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings spoke last Tuesday to educators about its effectiveness as well as the need for a remodeling for the program.

The program currently emphasizes and tests children grades three through eight in reading, math and science, leaving other subjects behind. The overall goal is for “all public school students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.”

Spellings says this must be revised and the presidential candidates need to take a stand and announce their plans for the future of NCLB, saying “to those who reject this goal, I ask, ‘What’s your answer?’ I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want their child on grade level right now, today, not 2014.”

Though very admirable goals, this places strain on the teachers and classrooms that are already behind or low-funded. “I don’t want to send another generation of American children to failing schools. I don’t want that future for my daughters. I don’t want that future for your sons. I do not want that future for America,” said Obama in Des Moines last November. His main concerns for NCLB is the lack of funding, but just throwing money at schools doesn’t make the teachers work any harder or the children any smarter. Schools need to learn how to use the money in the most productive and practical way. Not to mention that the program’s funding reached $24 billion in 2008, which doesn’t exactly sound lacking.

As a member of a family with at least five relatives in education, this is a topic I know teachers feel particularly fired up about. Amy Tisinger, a 2003 graduate of Iowa State, has seen firsthand how NCLB affects teachers and their students. She currently works in the south side of Chicago, at a public school, teaching second grade. “The experiences that I’ve had with No Child Left Behind have all been in inner-city urban already high-risk student populations. What I feel that No Child Left Behind is doing is placing more restraints on the teachers, rather than giving us the freedom to do what our specific student’s needs are. I don’t think the major problem lies in the amount of funding we get, because it’s about what you do with it. I think, also, they’re taking away money from these urban schools because our scores are not as high and all that’s giving us is less resources and putting more strain and stress on the teachers, which is affecting the children negatively.”

Besides the speculative issue of funding, constantly testing students for progress is another issue. Testing is given mainly in the hands of the state, and can even vary between close districts. Some schools may only test once a year, and others multiple times. While Tisinger worked in Houston, Texas a few years ago, one particular second grade class had tested a total of 22 days in a formal testing setting. What is this testing supposed to show? In second grade, children cannot even understand the importance of these tests and students who are bright and knowledgeable during class do not always show these talents during testing. Testing cannot always show a school’s improvement.

With so many problems in our education systems, it’s a wonder that the candidates should be so shy about the issue. This isn’t a problem that will go away on its own, and the children shouldn’t have the pay the price. In a few years, our generation will start sending our own children to schools and our younger brothers and sisters may still currently be testing in high school. We should be demanding answers. When choosing your favorite candidate this November, do your homework and study every aspect of their campaign. We shouldn’t leave No Child Left Behind, well, behind.

— Sarah Tisinger is a sophomore in pre-journalism and mass communication from Bettendorf.