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The Kids Are Already Left Behind

By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

President George Bush deserves a kind word for launching No Child Left Behind, thereby forcing a dialogue on the condition of the nation’s education system. No Child Left Behind was a federal law adopted in 2002 with the hope that the American education system could catch up with other Western nations and protect our leadership role in the world.

The lofty goal for No Child Left Behind was 100 per cent proficiency in several subject areas by 2013-14. Instead of moving toward the goal, the American education system is at a virtual stand still. We are bogged down in disagreement over the diagnosis and the cure for the lag in learning.

In the last progress report, almost one-fourth of North Dakota’s public schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind standards. If this failure becomes habitual, the law imposes all sorts of penalties on the failing institutions, none of which will improve the education system in the long run.

Public opinion on the value of No Child Left Behind is skewed, with three-fourths of the people telling Gallup pollsters that the program has made no difference or has made public education worse.

With renewal of the law in the offing, everyone has a different idea for improving the system, meaning that there is very little consensus on the cure. The largest block of support – 17 per cent – thought the solution lay in quality teachers who were better educated, more involved and more caring. The next largest block – 10 per cent – thought that schools needed to get back to reading, writing and arithmetic. The rest of the respondents had all sorts of suggestions.

While the proposals were all worthy, they really constitute remedial efforts to recalibrate the minds of students who come from homes with little or no commitment to the learning process. We expect the school system to make purses out of sows’ ears. Many children were left behind before they get to school.

With parents pre-occupied with their own interests and problems, children are left to sort out their own priorities. Learning is not one of them. Mind-scrambling television and electronic gadgetry are the primary fare for young minds, shaping behavioral patterns for years to come. As a result, students can master the Blackberry at age 10, but they can’t make the grade in reading or math.

If learning is not a value in the home, it will not suddenly become a value in kindergarten. The present-oriented attitude of parents will be absorbed by children who will not have the discipline to trade immediate gratification for future success. In North Dakota, over 700 students quit before graduating from high school last year.

The adult community is all too willing to blame the education system when the kids do poorly. We expect schools to pull off miracles with remedial parenting. Only five per cent of those responding to Gallup suggested more parental involvement as a means of improving the learning process. That’s leaving the problem at the school house door.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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