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Frist's Fibs on No Child Left Behind
February 19, 2004
By Gary L. Taft

Senator Bill Frist recently stated in the Knoxville News Sentinel (Jan. 3, 2004) that "everyone deserves [a] good education. The senate majority leader is absolutely correct. Everyone in the state of Tennessee, and in fact, every student in the nation should have an appropriate education leading them to a successful and productive life as an adult.

What prompted the honorable senator to make such a proclamation was the recent visit of President George W. Bush. The president visited a local elementary school to celebrate the two year anniversary of the controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and tout its successes.

As a public school teacher I devote a considerable amount of my time to preparing students for a world that can sometimes be brutal and unforgiving. This is a duty I and my co-workers take seriously. Despite the rumors being spread through the media and elsewhere, we do in fact care if a student passes through our classes and leaves without the amount of knowledge we feel they should have acquired.

Any legislation that affects the way we do our job and the way our students are educated, obviously prompts a considerable amount of attention. We are always looking for ways to improve our ability to educate and to give the community the "bang for the buck" they expect.

However, in addition to making sure we serve the students and the community to the best of our ability, we expect our elected representatives to support and back our gargantuan tasks. We expect our elected representatives to provide open and honest debate when presenting ideas to the community regarding the progression of the education system. Senator Frist's article did not fulfill these expectations.

There are several questions regarding the senator's guest column that I and other educators would like to ask.

• I would like to know why the senator continuously referred to the critics of NCLB as if they were some radical fringe group living in a desert commune, howling at the moon. There is a reason the critics were never mentioned by name. The reason is that the critics of this legislation are the teachers themselves. There is no question the vast majority of educators and administrators oppose NCLB and have made no secret of it. It would seem that Senator Frist feels the politicians in Washington know better than teachers in the classroom. This is not a good example of supporting public education.

• If Senator Frist supports the public education system the way he says he does, why did he only discuss the successes of religious sponsored private schools, charter schools, and a program initiated and financed by the Houston, Texas oil company Tenneco? Not one mention of the successes from the public school system. Once again, this is not a good example of supporting public education.

• What exactly do the above-mentioned variations of education have to do with NCLB? Senator Frist presented these ideas as if they were the offspring of the president's education plan when in fact they are not.

• Why does the senator insinuate that teachers do not believe children of all income levels and races can be educated? His tone throughout the article implies we have a racist view of who can and cannot be educated. He states that critics refuse to believe progress can be made and that despite the claims of the critics, racial minorities and poor children can in fact learn and will learn through NCLB. This is simply absurd. Nowhere can he produce evidence of teachers not believing any child can learn. Never have we looked at a student and written off their chances of success based on skin color or the amount of money they have in their wallet. In fact, the accusation is reprehensible. To imply the teaching profession's opposition to this legislation is symptomatic of racism is disingenuous to say the least. Most likely it reveals a hidden opposition to the public school system on the senator's part.

• Why did Senator Frist knowingly misstate the amount of money given to public education by presidents Bush and Clinton? And why did he grossly overstate the amount of money George W. Bush earmarked for education? Perhaps I am making a bigger deal out of this than is due considering the amount of money Congress plays with on a yearly basis, but in most people's opinion, a $3 billion overstatement is a considerable amount of money. Why did he state that President Clinton gave $23 billion to public education in 1996 when in fact it was $29.4 billion?

• Senator Frist quoted an economics professor from the University of Tennessee as saying that "educational attainment has a direct correlation to the unemployment rate and personal income growth" but failed to mention the rest of the quote or the context for which it was given. The entire quote was actually: "If we do not make the investment in education our economic performance will suffer substantially. More investment in education does not guarantee economic success, but economic failure is a certainty if we do not make that investment." This sounds faintly similar to the charges being made by the critics of NCLB who are complaining of unfunded federal mandates.

• Finally, I would like to ask why the senator plagiarized a paragraph from someone else's work and attempted to pass this off as his original thoughts? In quoting the statement of Diana Lam, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in New York City, he did nothing more than "borrow" a portion of a copyrighted article that was posted in the L.A. Times on November 24, 2003. This is shoddy academic work at best and a violation of copyright laws at worst.

Senator Frist, your contempt for the public education system is evident. Your agenda may be hidden from many, but rest assured, there are others not fooled so easily. The teachers in this state need someone to lead who will devote time to saving and preserving the institution of public education, not breaking it down. We need a leader who will put aside the agenda of extremists wishing to turn education over to the private sector and religious institutions and instead work to improve the lives of the majority of our children, not a selected few.

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