Our Golden Opportunity

Many of you know what our students have had to endure regarding No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Far from the origins of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was designed to help close the resource gap between schools in affluent communities and schools in communities of poverty, NCLB, or "No Child Left Untested," as I like to call it, has given us 13 long, frustrating, fearful years of wasted opportunities. Enough is enough.

In too many cases, schools have been ranked, not by genuine student achievement, but by having a specified number of students hit or exceed an artificial cut score on a test.

This is just wrong.

We educators were baffled at first by politicians and bureaucrats who just didn't seem to understand that all standardized tests were, by definition, extremely limited in what they could tell us about the whole child.

Then we were frustrated that legislators were deaf to our appeals for common sense as test prep stole more and more valuable time from instruction.

Finally, we were angry as we saw our most vulnerable students lost access to music, sports, the arts, and even recess in service to drilling and drilling test preparation down the throats of kids who were on the cusp of the cut score.

This week, the Senate is poised to act in a way that could do two very important things: First, reduce the test-and-punish culture that narrowed our curriculum; and second, take a step towards looking at what our students truly need - an equal opportunity to learn no matter what zip code they live in. In other words, our legislators can, if they care enough, close opportunity gaps in our nation's schools.

What are "opportunity gaps?" Well, you know them when you see them. For example:

  • One school has a theater department, up-to-date chemistry lab, and library full of books. Another school in a different zip code does not.
  • One school has computer labs, band uniforms, the latest sports equipment, and a schedule full of advanced course offerings. Another school across town does not.
  • One school has mentors from local tech firms and law offices. Another school in a low-income inner city neighborhood does not.

All students should have the opportunity to attend schools with enough resources to provide them with inviting classrooms, a well-rounded curricula, and the support services they need -- from healthy meals and a secure campus to professional librarians and counselors who can help them pursue whatever dreams they may have.

Right now, we have a golden opportunity to help make the dreams of our students a reality. When the U.S. Senate returns from their Fourth of July recess they will begin debating, amending, and hopefully reauthorizing, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

They're calling it the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), and it moves us in the right direction -- away from the test-and-punish culture of NCLB and toward closing opportunity gaps. At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives will re-consider H.R. 5, its version on ESEA.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country have made their voice heard - join us and tell your members of Congress to Get ESEA Right today.

Educators know that good teaching and learning inspires students' natural curiosity, imagination, and the ability to develop critical thinking skills. Schools must nurture these values because the stakes are high. It is educators who are growing tomorrow's engineers, artists, industry innovators, and leaders.

With the reauthorization of the absurd and dysfunctional NCLB, we have a chance to once again let teachers teach and let students learn. We have a chance to ignite their imaginations, encourage them to reach their full potential, and expand their world view beyond filling in bubble tests with a #2 pencil.