No Child Left Behind squelches good teachers
Those with the good fortune to be in the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts on Friday or Saturday received a potent lesson on why many teachers are critical of the No Child Left Behind law.
The law, championed by President Bush, is an effort to make schools more accountable for the educational performance of their students. Proficiency tests monitor student progress and teacher effectiveness, with serious consequences for schools that consistently fall short of federally imposed academic milestones.
It is a law that forces teachers to teach not for the student but for the test.
Some good has come from the law. Lazy teachers are forced to work so their students don't get behind. Poorly run schools have no choice but to get into shape.
For good teachers and good schools — like most in Decatur — the law has unintended and disturbing results.
Friday and Saturday, 160 students from Gordon-Bibb Elementary School participated in the musical "Oklahoma!" Preparation for the production was grueling for both teachers and students. Time that could have gone toward multiplication facts and writing skills instead went toward dozens of rehearsals, making studio sets and singing practice.
All their work was for naught from the perspective of the NCLB Act. Indeed, their efforts were counterproductive. Some test scores no doubt will suffer in an evaluation system geared not to preparing children for adulthood but to preparing them for a standardized test.
At the close of the musical's debut, as the children stood on the stage in costume and in the spotlight, a theater full of adults gave them a standing ovation. It was a magical moment, a face-off not about homework but about love. The older generation applauded the new one. The students beamed at the realization that, as a team, they had created something of value. Adults beamed with pride and love.
The production taught the students more important subjects than diagramming sentences. It taught them that hard work matters. It taught them that their best efforts were good enough. It even taught them that forgetting a line or two, or missing the high note, does not reduce their worth.
The NCLB Act wars against these lessons. The law is a disincentive to innovative instruction. It elevates the mundane and squelches lessons in emotional development.
Not every school has teachers with the energy demonstrated by the Gordon-Bibb musical, but many do. For their students, the NCLB Act is a barrier to lessons that will help them make the journey from childhood to maturity.