"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, January 19, 2007

No Child Left Big

By Fran Thomas

In response to the deepening crisis of obesity, federal education officials have just proposed a new system of accountability. It's called No Child Looks Big, or NCLB.

Under this system, schools are required to make every student run a mile under six minutes or face a range of sanctions. Progress toward this goal will be monitored through calculating Acceptable Youth Propulsion, or AYP. AYP will be calculated based on a single annual test, given in the spring, called the Multi-State Complicated Athletic Series, or MCAS. Today, I have a chance to talk to Mr. Pointy-Headed Bureaucrat, who explains the logic behind NCLB and MCAS.

"It's flawlessly simple. Schools haven't been held accountable, and because of that, too many students are too big. Too big! This will force change." What about the kids who don't want to run, aren't interesting in running and could care less how quickly they can cover a mile? Or parents who feel the same? And what about kids who have no place to run at home to practice, no good running shoes?

"All students will need these skills in the global marketplace, regardless."

But surely you realize all students don't enter school with the same running abilities, the same nutrition, the same family histories, the same opportunities to have run before. And some schools have more of those students than others. "Those students will be able to move to another school if it doesn't make AYP. And they'll want to, because one of the really neat, logical things we do is take money and resources away from such schools - you know, urban schools. Then we make them have longer gym classes. Two to four hours a day, if necessary."

Wait a minute! Did you say you take money away from schools that aren't doing well? Don't they need it more?

"Nonsense! Money doesn't buy happiness, or in this case, aerobic capacity."

But surely you realize some students have disabilities that prevent them from running as fast as their peers? That students come in all shapes and sizes?

"Look, there are disabled kids in China and India, too. Those are the kids our students will be competing against in the global marketplace. I bet they don't make excuses for kids in wheelchairs or on crutches in Singapore!" Since they beat you with a cane if you spit on the sidewalk there, I'd say that's probably a pretty safe bet. But why the mile? Aren't there other ways to develop fitness -that might actually be fun for students - like dance, aerobics, hip-hop, etc.? "That's part of the problem. Teachers and kids having too many choices. We'll have strict frameworks and curriculum guides that will do away with that nonsense." What about sprinting? Isn't that as legitimate a way to gauge speed as a long run - assuming you're correct in that this skill is truly essential? "Did I stutter? Look, the first year we look at your times and they aren't up to snuff, we label you Not Impressive. Three more years like that and then your times are Chronically Unimpressive. Then we come in and take over." And you've had success before? You've led schools that have gotten every student under six minutes in the mile? Urban schools?

"Well, no. But we'll be happy to come in and tell you what you're doing wrong." Thanks! Now, you said this was in response to a crisis. Does this mean schools will be funded the way, say, the military is when they are facing a crisis?

"No, there's no extra money. This is strictly an unfunded mandate. In fact, depending on your town or city's finances, your existing budget may very well get cut."

So, let me see if I've got this straight: you've decided upon a standard all kids must meet, regardless of their interest, motivation or the resources available to them. You admit some students have disabilities, which will virtually make it impossible for them to accomplish this. There's no extra money, yet you say it is a crisis. No matter what type of career a student plans on, you insist this skill will be essential in helping these same students compete in some vague, undefined global marketplace. And, when schools show they need help, you punish them by taking money away. Have I got that right? "Well, you sound like one of those obstructionist protectors of the status quo, but yes, in essence, you are fundamentally correct." Super! Can you answer just one more question for me? "If you make it quick - I've got schools to label and finishing times to examine." When's the last time you spent a day with a kid? "Gee, what a strange question! I don't spend too much time with kids - I look at data. I'm data driven. I don't really actually deal with flesh and blood kids - just data."

Somehow I'm not surprised. Thanks for your time.

— Fran Thomas
Leominster Champion (Massachussetts)
2007-01-19

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