Education

Schools Should Leave No Elective Behind

OPB | May 20, 2008 3:07 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:15 a.m. | Portland, OR

Contributed By:

Bob Balmer By Bob Balmer

Educators and politicians may disagree over the benefits and drawbacks of the No Child Left Behind law. But for commentator Bob Balmer there’s no gray area when it comes to his feelings about this particular policy.


A friend of mine teaches art in a junior high school. She says that her program might be cut back so her school can hire more English teachers.  Electives like music and shop class could face similar setbacks. That’s all thanks to No Child Left Behind, the law that will soon require 100% of all students to meet benchmarks.

Sorry, but cutting electives does not motivate the students least likely to pass a standardized test. When I taught a class of disadvantaged students, here’s what I learned. I learned that classes like music, shop and art are the academic sunbreaks in an otherwise bleak day.  It is these very extras that  motivate students to show up. And if students don’t show up, how will they improve in reading or math?

Even without the electives issue, the law’s 100% benchmark is about as realistic as mandating that a blind person will see.  Some students require years of remediation.  Some students face outside problems.  Mom leaves dad.  Dad’s an alcoholic.  Depression arrives.  Some students are so angry they cut their own flesh.  And then there are the students who celebrate failure:  They get  an F, and they high-five their friends.  When taking standardized tests, they fail from lack of knowledge or skill.  Or because testing is just a game they refuse to play.

Actually, it’s the educators who are more likely to playing the games.  I have heard an administrator ask if students from special programs were going to take a statewide test.  That’s code for:  “Please say they won’t.  Because if they do, they’ll lower our ratings.”

And about this 100 percent thing…  No baseball player has ever batted a thousand.  No basketball player has ever shot 100%.  But by 2014 100% of students from Alaska to Florida must reach benchmarks. What kind of sense does that make?

No Child Left Behind is the Bush Administration’s gift to education. To me, it seems more like a Trojan Horse.  An attempt to embarrass public education, maybe?  Strengthen the case for school vouchers and private schools? I don’t know. The cynical me thinks that’s the truth.  The more charitable me thinks maybe this law just typifies President Bush’s delusional mantra:  If I say it will happen, it will happen.

Still, whether Bush is cynical or delusional doesn’t matter.  What matters is that this law — with its all or nothing benchmarks — steals time, resources and opportunities from teachers and students.  It’s time they don’t have. I say, it’s time to get rid of it.

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