If you want to kill a profession, blame them for all cases of failure. Someone dies at the hospital—blame the doctors. Someone dies at the nursing home—blame the nurses. A case goes unsolved—blame the policemen. Obviously, in spite of the best of doctors, nurses and police, some patients will die and some crimes will not be solved. Continue this blame game, and soon no one will want to be a doctor, nurse or law officer.
That is the biggest problem (among many) with No Child Left Behind. It has a bad attitude toward teachers. All blame is placed on the teacher anytime a student fails. And by the year 2014, all students must succeed—or teachers and their schools will be punished.
There are plenty of reasons a student may fail the narrow assessment tests of reading and math, and most of the reasons are not under a teacher’s control.
A growing number of students do not speak English. They begin their academic race way behind the starting line, yet must reach the finish line alongside those that are native speakers. Some children are born with very limited academic ability. Sadly, some teenagers have fried their brains on drugs. Or a student may be unable to focus if the parents are in the midst of a divorce. And some are handicapped by lacking books in the home, and live in a culture that neither values nor supports academics.
Just as the best of doctors lose patients, the best of teachers lose students.
When I lecture in China to Chinese students preparing to be teachers, their jaws drop when I explain that all blame for a student’s failure is placed on the teacher. I ask “Who’s fault is it when you fail to pass the college entrance exams?” In unison, Chinese students reply: “Our fault.”
What is most disturbing when you listen to Board of Education discussions in America is that you never hear of the responsibilities of students and parents. Students are responsible for studying, completing assignments and homework, being honest and doing their own work, working with the class learning activities rather than against the teacher, and placing other non-academic activities including videogames and work and sports second. Parents are responsible for providing an atmosphere that supports and values academics, coaching their child to work hard, keeping their children healthy and able to hear and see well, and supporting the teacher and school.
Just as a doctor is not responsible when a patient does not take their prescription, a teacher is not to blame for the consequences when a student fails to complete their homework.
Sadly, neither presidential candidate recognizes this deprofessionalization of teaching. Both will continue some form of NCLB and the culture of “blaming the teacher.”
However, Americans with children know NCLB is a disaster. According to an AP-Yahoo.com poll conducted Dec. 14–20, 2007 with 1821 adults, 46% responded that we should get out of NCLB, 27% defended NCLB and 30% were neutral. Polls by some Kansas regional papers show even higher rates of disapproval.
The problem with NCLB is not “more local control” or “fund the unfunded mandate.” The problem is that it blames teachers for problems they do not control. And many of our best veteran teachers and rookies are leaving the profession. If we want them back, we must stop the blame and kill NCLB.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.