WHAT OTHERS SAY: Learn from the mistakes of No Child Left Behind

Thursday, September 29, 2011 | 4:27 p.m. CDT

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are right that the federal government has let states down with its impossible No Child Left Behind mandate.

Virginia is ahead of the student-standard game, as it has been from the start, given its Standards of Learning program that spells out precisely what children should know before they graduate.

But even if states are given waivers from the law, we must be careful to provide quality education across the spectrum of any school systems' student population.

The No Child Left Behind philosophy of making sure all students — no matter their challenges — are given a fair shot at that quality education was right on.

Where the legislation went wrong — as knee-jerk reactions often do — was in operating under the assumption that all students will achieve to a predetermined level.

It's impossible. And in reaching for perfection, many students in fact did fall between the cracks.

The system's sharpest focus is in moving up lower achieving students at the expense of allowing higher performers to stay the same. That's too high a price for a community to pay.

Virginia would probably stand a good chance in obtaining Obama's version of a waiver from the law. But as the state officials go down that road, they must find a way to let teachers provide a creative environment to nurture lifetime learners.

Armed with the lessons of a failed system, officials need to adapt the Standards of Learning to a culture in which teachers and administrators are not so hamstrung by final test scores that they continue the backward policy of shoveling information to students and teaching to the tests.

If we are to learn anything from the failures of No Child Left Behind, we must provide an education that propels students into the world armed with skills and knowledge and ready to continue learning in the fast-paced society they will inhabit.

Copyright, Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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