No teacher left behind

/ 3 March 2008

I had an interesting conversation with Geri, one of the teachers my son had the pleasure of working with when he was younger. Nathaniel is at a wonderful school with a year round program and multiage classrooms. Now they are thinking about moving away from the multiage classroom. Geri told me that one of the reasons for this is that they just can’t cover the state-mandated curriculum for two grades in a single classroom and give the kids fair attention.

I spent part of my grade-school education in a program called “Major Work” that was part of the Cleveland Public Schools in the 1970’s. Our Major Work classrooms were multiage (Grades 3/4, 4/5, 5/6, and the like). I loved being exposed to things the next grade was working on and having a chance to work on skills (like spelling) without the stigma of having to go to a lower-grade classroom for that brush-up. That we are crushing initiatives like this with strict “No Child Left Behind” mandates is terrible. Where is the room for teacher creativity and a child’s own pace in this system?

As I’ve thought about I’ve wondered if we have not been pursuing the wrong end of the stick. Instead of no child left behind, maybe we should be pursuing no teacher left behind. I believe that if we fill our classrooms with wonderful and creative teachers who know their stuff, the kids can’t help but learn. We don’t need to hold the kids to strict curriculum standards, we need to give teachers the tools, salary, and respect they need to become excellent at what they do.

Then, today, I came across this video from last week on the campaign trail. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for sharing this.)

First of all, Obama is saying many of the right things about NCLB and the way it fails kids. He does not quite discard it as fully as I would like, but then even Michael Bennet told me there were some valuable results to be found from NCLB. Maybe I’d toss the baby with the bathwater.

But keep watching: about three minutes in Obama has a “one last thing” moment that is as great as any I’ve seen Steve Jobs give. One last thing: parents have to parent. This gave me a whole new perspective on my “no teacher left behind” notion. Do parents too often leave teachers holding the bag that families should hold? What if all parents did the work Obama asks them to do in this video? How many leaders in our country are willing to ask us all to do the very hard work that Obama asks us to do in this bit of extemporaneous revival?

And note the crowd’s reaction. They were supportive when Obama took on NCLB. But they become ecstatic when he asks them all to do some work to serve our children. This is another call to service. As parents we cannot leave our teachers behind, we have to support our kids and the work that teachers are trying to do in our schools.

Getting rid of NCLB, IMHO, would also help!

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