Please, Leave More Children Behind

Maybe memories of his mediocre Yale performance keep Dubya's sympathies for under-performing students at public schools alive - but when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act, he needs to put the jacket and tie back on and start acting a little more like a cold-hearted blue-blooded elitist Republican. Stupid and lazy kids are ruining the public schools, and keeping them in school is the problem.

I say this from my own K-12 experience at a sub-par school system. Not the worst one out there by any means, but we weren't exactly sending kids to the Ivies. Or much of anywhere but community college and the nearest state universities.

The teachers weren't all unqualified. Like many students, I did have a few who were pretty good and helped me immensely. I will always be grateful for these few, though in retrospect I realize that they were only doing what I should have expected from all of my instructors - the others just didn't measure up.

Part of this was because I lived in a somewhat rural area and the school system didn't have the money to attract many good teachers. Of course, this lack of funds could have had far less effect than it did if the money they did have was better spent. Far too much (isn't any too much?) money went to sports. A significant portion of the budget went to the "alternative school" for kids who had missed so much school that they were going to be kicked out. They got "mini-lessons" in basic math for a small part of the day, and did some sort of factory-type work for the rest of the day. The vocational school was similar, giving career training generally meant to prepare students for entering the work force immediately after high school.

Why, I always wondered, does so much money go to programs for students at the low end of the academic scale? I'm not suggesting that schools should kick out students who don't make the grade - but should we really be giving them special programs and making entire special schools with standards low enough for them to meet? The emphasis seems to be on getting every kid a diploma. If doing so requires lowering standards, then so be it. If lowering standards requires money for special schools, then that's fine with them too. But the better students, those who could really benefit from more funding to the upper end of the academic spectrum, suffer for it.

Another part of the problem was laziness. It's one thing to have slow students who sit in class and try their best to understand the teacher (this is still a problem of course, as teachers end up dumbing down lessons to suit the slower students). It's quite another when students, some slower, some not, decide that they don't care about school and cause disruptions in and out of class.

My high school, even in the most advanced classes offered (which weren't really very advanced), had ridiculously low standards. Anyone of even average intelligent could make the honor role (if not straight A's) if she was willing to do homework, assigned reading, and put in a few hours of study every night. That's not the case in all schools, but it was in mine and is in many others. Of course, most of these students don't read the book, don't study, often don't do homework, and don't make the grades they could. Many talk in class, don't help in group projects, and cheat when possible. This lessens the academic quality of the student body, makes it harder for teachers to teach, and makes the school system a less desirable place for well-qualified teachers.

So what is Bush doing with this No Child Left Behind Act, punishing school systems whose students aren't academically up to par? Sure, there are lazy teachers who need to be kept on their toes too. But there are an awful lot of lazy and stupid students out there. Putting the focus on them by threatening to pull funding and fire teachers isn't the best way to fix the problem.

So what do I suggest? I'm sure you've already guessed that I'm in favor of cutting out any special programs or schools that offer diplomas based on reduced academic standards. At the very least, standards need to be maintained. Preferably, in many schools they should be raised. If students habitually cut class, do them a favor and tell them not to come back. If they are disruptive or obviously don't do their work, tell them the same. Stop catering to the low end, and stop putting up with students who purposefully drag everyone else down.

That gives us a better learning environment for students who do care to try and makes for a more attractive teaching environment - better students, more money for teacher salaries and real academic use. That's a start. If U.S. citizens are going to be forced to finance public schools and that isn't going to change anytime soon, we ought to at least make the public schools more productive.

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