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All US Children Are Being Left Behind

By James Donahue

Among the many disasters to be included within the Bush legacy will be the No Children Left Behind program that turned America's public schools into parrot-styled memorization drills to assure that students pass tests.

The program, patterned after a failed educational program in Texas, launched when Bush was governor of that state, tests not only students but their teachers in making sure students score well on these tests.

Naturally, the No Child Left Behind program drove teachers to protect their jobs by concentrating most, if not all of their classroom hours in making sure students knew the answers to test questions. The issue of real education was literally thrown out with the trash.

Madison, Wisconsin middle school teacher was so concerned about this issue that he put his job on the line when he recently refused to administer one of the tests. David Wasserman sat in the teacher's lounge while other staffers gave his students the test. He said he staged his protest because he believes the program takes up too much class time and is used to unfairly punish schools.

Indeed, there has been a serious problem in the American public education program for years, and perhaps Mr. Bush was correct in attempting to make improvements. But what he forced into the education system only made matters worse. No child learns when forced to memorize information like a parrot, and then regurgitate answers upon demand.

We have been aware of the mounting disaster among our uneducated youth for years, but because of the other Bush-generated issues, like the Iraqi War and the looming threat of yet another unprovoked assault on Iran, we have not been giving this issue the attention it deserved.

We nearly fell off our chair last week when Mr. Bush stood before our television screens and boasted about the great success his education program has been in the nation's schools. He gave no statistics, but claimed that National Education Association records show most high school students receiving diplomas.

This record is obviously flawed, if the NEA really posts such statistics. A counter report released this week by a research team from Johns Hopkins University for the Associated Press, revealed that no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year in a high number of American schools.

The story said this describes what is happening in more than one in 10 high schools across America and quoted researcher Bob Balfanz who called these schools "dropout factories."

The report said there are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools in the US that fit this description. And that is about 12 percent of all such schools, the report s aid.

The study showed that the highest concentration of dropout factories are located in large cities and high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most of the children affected in these schools are minorities.

The school districts, now caught in a financial squeeze generated by failing property values which lead to lower property tax revenues, are caught in the federal No Child Left Behind trap. The program, now before legislators for renewal, will pump federal dollars into school coffers. But along with the money comes pressure for teachers to produce students able to pass tests.

The current NCLB law imposes severe consequences on schools where students get low test scores, especially on math and reading tests. Among the penalties are replacement of teachers and principals.