Friday, September 08, 2006

No Child Law near perfect? No way.

Last week Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was quoted as saying the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law was "99.9" percent close to working properly and needed little change when it comes up for renewal next year.

That's not the opinion of many, including the Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA:

In today's Chicago SunTimes there were four articles that I feel related to NCLB, but none seemed intended on relating to each other, or demonstrated a long term vision of how to change the status quo.

On a page 23 article titled "No Child law near perfect? Blagojevich begs to differ", Governor Blagojevich was quoted as "joining a growing chorus of critics".

On page 34, there was an article titled "A Last Ditch effort to save gang members". This talked about how ministers in Durham, North Carolina, are raising money to send gang members out of state, so they can escape gangs. Does this mean if they send them to Chicago's West or South side neighborhoods they won't be recruited into gangs? No. Poverty is a breeding ground for gangs. While education is the path out of poverty, government has not yet outlined a plan that provides learning supports in the non-school hours, and in all high poverty neighborhoods.

On page 40, Tom Sharp of Lincoln Park wrote "Principals don't deserve easy A's"
Tom's article concluded with, "The basic fact that CPS leadership has yet to accept is that the students themselves, there home environments, and the value placed on education by their parents/guardians are the key variables to education success. The teacher plays a secondary role and the principle, more often than not, is a minor player at best.

On page 39, Andrew Greeley's column was titled "Greed trumps common good every time".
Greeley wrote about "how difficult it is for this large, pluralistic and cumbersome country to accomplish goals that most of its people agree on, more or less." According to Greeley, "one of the major obstacles is greed." He targets big business, saying, "The common good just doesn't matter when big business is running the country -- into the ground."

In my opinion, these are articles are all related. NCLB (and government policy) does not provide funding for the wide range of learning supports (including tutoring/mentoring) that would help more kids come to school with greater aspirations and motivations to learn.

It does not provide the type of non-school activities that would compete with gangs for student involvement. It does not motivate businesses to use their own resources (people, dollars, technology, jobs, leadership) to help youth come to school prepared to learn, and move through school more prepared for 21st century jobs. Just pointing at teachers and principles, or at the bureaucracy of NCLB, is not providing a vision for how we all work together to solve the problem.

Tutor/Mentor programs are learning supports where people from beyond poverty can connect with youth living in poverty, and become extra resources to help youth move through school and into jobs. However, without consistent funding there are too few programs, and too few good programs.

Until leadership understands that these programs not only benefit youth, but also transform the adult volunteer into a leader, they won't invest time and leadership into strategies that draw more adults into these programs, or support the operations that retain volunteers for multiple years.

In the end, we cannot legislate morality or dictate leadership. We can only recognize and support it when we see it. Thus, when we talk of greed, my suggestion would be to find ways to recognize with our votes, and with our shopping habits, those leaders who do more to make this a better world. If we reward good leadership others will soon learn to duplicate this, or even innovate better leadership.

Imagine a day when elected leaders and big and small businesses would be competing with each other to see who could do the most good.

A first step would be for editors to link stories in the news to web site forums that draw people together to understand how these stories relate to each other. Another would be to find ways to get more people personally involved.

Being a volunteer in a tutor/mentor program is a good way to start that involvement.

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