No Child Left Behind Leaves Rural Schools Behind

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Few of us can imagine the nightmare of watching a lifelong career disappear in an instant with the passage of sweeping federal legislation.

There can be no more helpless feeling than the one being experienced right now by the six Payson teachers who were given notices recently that they "may not be rehired."

Their only recourse is to wait.

Joseph Parone, Jan Hollingsworth, Monika Oakley, Arnold Stonebrink, Gregory Stamp and Dave LaMotte are the latest victims of No Child Left Behind, a one-size-fits-all education reform that became law on Jan. 8, 2002.

Unfortunately, NCLB is an awkward fit for small towns, and we are feeling the squeeze as a new portion of the legislation goes into effect in June of this year.

To simplify, the new piece requires that teachers be certified in every subject they teach. While this idea is logical in the classrooms of Chicago and New York City where the hiring pool is deep and the wages are competitive, it destroys the very system that has kept rural schools running since the beginning of public education.

In small towns across the country, "pitching in" is the tradition. Teachers often teach numerous subjects and multiple grade levels.

Anyone who grew up in a small town remembers the math teacher who also taught PE. But those days are over in June.

Those teachers who "pitched in" no longer have a place in the post-NCLB world, and many of them no longer have jobs.

The Payson Unified School District must now search for teaching candidates with double and triple majors to fill the six empty positions.

The problem with this June wrinkle in No Child Left Behind for Payson, is that no system was put in place to help those teachers keep their jobs. The legislation set standards, but didn't provide funding for professional development programs to help teachers meet those new standards.

Dave LaMotte has a degree in history, but has been teaching Special Education, a subject in which he is not "highly qualified." For him -- or any of the other teachers in his position -- to keep his job, he must commute to Phoenix or Flagstaff for the time it takes to earn 30 credit hours to become certified to teach Special Education.

At $207 per credit hour, not including books and travel, this is no small expense.

According to NCLB, he will not be allowed to keep his job in the meantime.

Certification alone does not create a great teacher or assure each student a great education. Classroom experience molds great teachers.

LaMotte has been teaching for 30 years. He is considered one of the best wrestling coaches in the Western United States. His character is impeccable. He is a father and a husband. And his ability to teach is being questioned by someone in Washington, D.C.

We encourage our lawmakers to take a second look at No Child Left Behind and correct the inequities it has created for rural schools.

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