"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.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Note to the Senators...

Message sent to the following recipients:
Senator Bayh
Senator Lugar
Message text follows:

Stewart Bloom
PO Box 291
Grabill, IN 46741-0291

October 23, 2007

[recipient address was inserted here]

[recipient name was inserted here],

I urge you to add your name as a cosponsor of the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007 (S. 2053), sponsored by Senators Feingold and Leahy, and the No Child Left Behind Reform Act (S. 1194), sponsored by Senators Dodd and Salazar.

S. 2053 and S. 1194 would both allow states to use growth models and multiple measures to assess student learning and school success, rather than simply looking at their performance on a standardized test one day of the year.

S. 2053 would also place greater emphasis on assessments that measure the kinds of advanced skills—higher-order thinking, analytical, and problem solving—students need for the 21st century and would offer states the option to go back to the pre-NCLB testing schedule for statewide tests (at least once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high
school).

S. 2053 and S. 1194 represent a critically important step toward curbing the epidemics of "teaching to the test" and narrowing of the curriculum, both of which have been negative, unintended by-products of NCLB's accountability requirements.

In addition, I have some serious concerns about the act itself. It is flawed to the extreme. The National Council of Churches has spoken to 10 specific concerns which also concern me. Please consider these as you focus on this important legislation.

Moral Concern #1: The No Child Left Behind Act sets an impossibly high bar that every single student will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Since this is a statistical impossibility it will only undermine the important job which public schools do for our country.

Moral Concern #2: The No Child Left Behind Act has neither acknowledged where children start the school year nor celebrated their individual accomplishments. Not every child is the same. Jefferson said, "There is nothing so unequal as complete equality." Children need to be encouraged for their achievements even if they do not meet the standards set by legislators. Teachers know this...

Moral Concern #3: Because the Act ranks schools according to test score thresholds of children in every demographic subgroup, a "failing group of children" will know when they are the ones who made their school a "failing" school.

They risk being shamed among their peers, by their teachers and by their community. The No Child Left Behind Act has renamed this group of children the school's "problem group." In some schools educators have felt pressured to counsel students who lag far behind into alternative programs so they won't be tested. This has increased the dropout rate.

Moral Concern #4: The No Child Left Behind Act requires children in special education to pass tests designed for children without disabilities. Do you understand why some children are placed in special education? It is because they have difficulty learning. It is our obligation, as citizens to provide them with the best possible method of reaching their potential, however, asking them to overcome their disability without restriction is like asking someone who is blind to pass a sight test.

Moral Concern #5: The No Child Left Behind Act requires English language learners to take tests in English before they learn English.

It calls their school a failure because they have not yet mastered academic English. Schools have the obligation to teach English to immigrant students, however, not all students learn at the same rate. Children, especially those who have suffered and come to the USA as refugees, need time to adapt to the culture as well as the language. This is punishing children for the fact that they were not born to English speaking parents.

Moral Concern #6: The No Child Left Behind Act blames schools and teachers for many challenges that are neither of their making nor within their capacity to change.

I have been a teacher for 31 years and in that time I have seen the importance of the relationship between a teacher and his students. The focus on one single measure to determine the success or failure of a child or school is completely contrary to everything I know about good education. When Congress passes No Child Left Without Health Care, No Child Left Hungry, and No Child Left Homeless, then, perhaps, we can talk about No Child Left Behind. Until then, the society in which we live is, in itself, tying the hands of teachers who are dedicated to helping children achieve and find their way in the world.

Moral Concern #7: The relentless focus on testing basic skills in the No Child Left Behind Act obscures the role of the humanities, the arts, and child and adolescent development.

While education should cover basic skills in reading and math, the educational process should aspire to far more. I believe education should help all children develop their gifts and realize their promise—intellectually physically, socially, and ethically. The No Child Left Behind Act treats children as products to be tested, measured and made more uniform. Children are not automobiles or computers. They are human beings and they need the solace of the arts and the health provided by good nutrition and exercise to flourish. NCLB is turning schools into drill centers where the "whole child" is ignored and only the test taking ability is encouraged.

Moral Concern #8: Because the No Child Left Behind Act operates through sanctions, it takes federal Title I funding away from educational programing in already overstressed schools and uses these funds to bus students to other schools or to pay for private tutoring firms. This law punishes children, teachers and schools for the failings of our nation. We spend money on wasteful wars while children in our own cities go to bed hungry. If a child is ill you would not withhold medical care...so if a child needs help you should not withhold money which would increase his chances of success.

Moral Concern #9: The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as "in need of improvement."

A child's zip code is a better predictor of his academic success than anything else. Poor children are being left behind. No Child Left Behind is not flexible enough to deal with the problems faced by these children and their schools every day.

Moral Concern #10: The No Child Left Behind Act makes demands on states and school districts without fully funding reforms that would build capacity to close achievement gaps.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone wrote, "It is simply negligent to force children to pass a test and expect that the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, will be able to do as well as those who have every advantage. When we do this, we hold children responsible for our own inaction and unwillingness to live up to our own promises and our own obligations." To enable schools to comply with the law's regulations and to create conditions that will raise achievement, society will need to increase federal funding for the schools that serve our nation's most vulnerable children and to keep Title I funds focused on instruction rather than on transportation and school choice.

NCLB needs a complete overhaul. History judges societies by how they treat their children. I urge you to focus on what is best for children, not what is politically expedient or economically "responsible." Moral accountability is as important as academic accountability.

Sincerely,

Stewart Bloom
260-450-9042

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Read the Declaration of Independence From High Stakes Testing


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