All That Is Left Behind

When daily confronted with a multiplicity of often competing demands and the stress that comes with such, something invariably has to give; something will be forgotten or forsaken. Last week, for Jonathan Sander of North Potomac, MD, what was forgotten was his 7 1/2-month-old daughter, as reported in the Washington Post:

Sander arrived at the Shady Grove Metro station about 7 a.m. to begin his usual commute, only this time with his baby girl, whom he is normally not responsible for taking care of in the mornings, said Lt. Eric Burnett, a Montgomery County police spokesman.

Sander parked in a garage and got on a Red Line train. His daughter, whose name police did not release, remained in the back seat of his Volkswagen Passat in a car seat.

At some point during his commute, Sander realized what he had done, got off the southbound train and headed back to Shady Grove, police said.

“People go to work. They have a lot on their minds. It just happens,� Burnett said, describing Sander as “panicked, to say the least.�

By then, commuters on the second level of the Shady Grove station’s east garage had noticed the baby. They called for help, and firefighters soon arrived, removing the baby from the car before 8 a.m. more…

Fortunately, the child was unharmed and reunited quickly with her family. Jonathan Sander was given a criminal citation by the police and, presumably, a lengthy verbal whiplashing by his wife. My inital reaction upon reading this news item was that the No Child Left Behind act just isn’t working. While I admit that saying so makes for a whimsical punch line, I have a serious point to make. (Brace yourself.) Just as the seemingly distracted or overstressed Mr. Sander found himself in the unenviable position of having neglected a fundamental responsibility, a great many schools—overstressed themselves by decreased funding and increased demands—are finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to forsake fundamental elements of the curriculum in order to comply with provisions of the No Child Left Behind act. A recent article by Sam Dillon in the New York Times, entitled “Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math,� reports on this concerning phenomenon:

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. The center is an independent group that has made a thorough study of the new act and has published a detailed yearly report on the implementation of the law in dozens of districts….

The increasing focus on two basic subjects has divided the nation’s educational establishment. Some authorities, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, say the federal law’s focus on basic skills is raising achievement in thousands of low-performing schools. Other experts warn that by reducing the academic menu to steak and potatoes, schools risk giving bored teenagers the message that school means repetition and drilling. more…

And we all know how the oil tycoons in power love drilling. The sad truth is that the No Child Left Behind act is a farce, an unfunded mandate that substitutes standardized testing for legitimate reform. By forcing schools to rob Peter to pay Paul, NCLB robs our children of the rich and diverse learning experience that they deserve and, in effect, leaves them all behind in the back seat.

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One response

  1. Great post, David. I had several good laughs at your comments throughout, even as at the story of the forgotten baby — a fear every parent of a baby has experienced — struck terror in my heart.

    Joking aside, you make an insightful analogy about what is happening to education with NCLB. Coincidentally, I had just read the NY Times education piece you cite this morning and was going to post about it, but you beat me to it and did it much better justice.

    The part that galls me is that so many other aspects of education use both math and reading. Music uses math. History uses reading. Science uses both reading and math. To exclude these subjects and turn the school day into a test-drilling hoop-jumping exercise is a travesty.

    Why not have kids participate in the full range of subjects and then tutor them with added emphasis on the math and reading aspects of the other subjects?

    And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check on my baby. (Not forgotten, just napping.)

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