Give failing grade to law, not schools

Bidwell Junior High teacher Debra-Lou Hoffman has worked in education for 30 years. A Chico native with two degrees from Chico State, she is a founding director of the Learning Research Institute.

I’m a school teacher and a parent, so when I tell you I’ve heard the phrase “That’s not fair!” thousands of times, you can believe me. What I always reply is, “Life is not fair; get used to it.”

Nonetheless, sometimes we really want life to be at least a little fairer. That’s what I’m thinking in regards to No Child Left Behind: It’s just not fair—to anyone.

Those of us in education have known all along that NCLB would eventually punish everyone; a great title doesn’t equal a great law.

Some schools have been in the “underperforming” category for a few years now. Often, those schools have a high percentage of second-language learners. Wonderful teachers at those schools are doing everything humanly possible to help students achieve. But research proves that it takes at least seven years to learn a new language. The law doesn’t take that into consideration.

The at-risk population is another challenge. For whatever reason, those students miss a lot of school. You can’t teach a child if he isn’t in school. I have had students in my class who have missed more than one-third of the school days. But the law doesn’t take that into consideration.

And, of course, every public school has a special-education population. This is another category of student punished by NCLB. They are in special education because they have special needs; however, the law doesn’t take that into consideration, either.

Every subgroup must meet some fairly unrealistic goals or the school is called a failure. Even some schools that have achieved the California Distinguished School status are labeled “failing” under NCLB.

I have many personal stories about NCLB. One day during the yearly spring testing, a girl finished her test and brought it to me in tears. I told her not to worry; it’s just a test, and only one score. She looked at me and said, “I’m not upset about the test—my aunt died yesterday.”

I will never forget her sadness and the inanity of the situation. It was only a test, only one score that supposedly represented her as a student—for the entire school year. NCLB considers only that one test as a measure of each student or school.

Congress is considering renewal of this flawed law, with some changes that would actually make it even worse. Rather than punishing students and teachers, NCLB should provide the dollars needed for proven reforms.

It is imperative that you let your voice be heard. Please contact Rep. Wally Herger and tell him to vote no on the Miller/Pelosi NCLB Reauthorization proposal.