Fibs on No Child Left Behind
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
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
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.