This letter is written in response to the Jan. 27 guest comment written by Senator Kyl. As an educator for more than 30 years, Senator Kyl only reignites the less than stellar image most Americans currently hold of our schools. He cites a recent international comparative study of 34 countries and found that the U.S. ranks a dismal 25th place in math. He is quick to blame teacher unions. What Senator Kyl does not understand is that such a study compares all students’ scores from the participating countries.
Because of No Child Left behind (I term it: No Teacher Left Standing), we are required to spend an inordinate amount of money and resources on our disabled students (i.e. SLD, ELL, etc.) and those generally scoring in the bottom third. These scores are included in such misleading studies. For an accurate comparison, special needs student scores should be disaggregated from those submitted so that we are comparing apples to apples. Other industrialized nations of the world do not educate their special needs students in the same way in which we are required. We are truly a worldwide leader in educating students labeled with learning disabilities and other impediments to their learning. My guess is that most people do not realize this important fact, including Senator Kyl.
One of the reasons that China and Japan continually score so well is that they do not educate special needs students in the same schools as those promising young students that will become their movers and shakers. The vast majority of the teachers I have worked with over the years are outstanding, caring, committed educators. Teachers are no better in China and Japan. The difference, then, is what scores we are choosing to include in the study.
However, I agree with Senator Kyl on the self-esteem issue in schools. Much too much attention has been placed on feel-good awards programs that recognize expected levels of student achievement. All children should know what it means to win and what it means to lose. Both result in logical consequences.
In sum, it would be wise to place more emphasis on our top achieving students if we are to compete with other industrialized nations in the 21st century. The No Child Left Behind mandate, although a good idea, has drained valuable resources away from our movers and shakers in recent years. Along with hollow praise and recognition for expected levels of achievement, this Bush education reform has hindered schools as well as publicly humiliated many of them for under-performing in particular subgroups (i.e. ELL Reading, etc.). Can’t we all just stop the blame game and redirect our energies to include challenging all of our students, those in the bottom third as well as those in the top third?