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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The federal initiative, NCLB: No Child Left Behind was cast upon public schools across the nation in 2001 with great fanfare and good reason. The intent of the legislation was to ensure that every child at least become proficient at competency levels considered at the minimum standard necessary to be a successful and productive citizen. The goal was that 100% of children would reach these standards of performance by 2014. It was designed to provoke reform and improvement in public school education.

Complicating this equation of increasing achievement levels was the brutal impact of an economic recession that deprived public schools of significant amounts of revenue they had historically received from their respective state departments of education through taxes. The reality of a constricting economy choking schools of resources at a time they were facing ever increasing expectations and outcomes throttled the efforts of many a school district. Yet, we advance stridently in spite of the impending obstacle.

The pinch between doing far more with far less has prompted me to suggest that schools develop legislation in response. The initiative would be referred to as FPLA: Few Politicians Looking Ahead. This act would expose the shortsighted vision of politicians who imagine that we can move forward as a nation while repeatedly reducing the funding available to schools. In New York, this means revealing the hypocrisy of politicians who clamor for more and more cuts in state aid to public schools while simultaneously maintaining tax loopholes for millionaires. The revenue that could be gained by repealing the clause protecting millionaires from paying their fair share of taxes actually exceeds the amount of money schools were deprived of in state aid last year. People and programs have been eliminated from schools across the state. Reserve accounts of schools have been drastically decreased to thwart additional lay-offs. For most school districts, there are no more areas to cut without negatively impacting instruction at dangerous levels at exactly the same time that policy makers have increased the expectations and performance standards of educators and learners.

Education has long been viewed as an economic engine in this country. Our nation's future is dependent on the ability of schools to generate the creative and productive human capital. Our knowledge based economy requires progressive technology and stimulating innovations to sustain our competitive edge in the world arena. How can we nurture the intellectual growth when we have been starved for resources?

Maybe it's time we raise expectations and standards of our politicians? How about developing a report card on politicians that would publicly record their performance? How about firing them if they don't meet these increased standards? I submit that the overwhelming rate of re-election of office incumbents, a virtual absence of campaign finance laws, a growing body of lobbyists exerting too much influence, and political gerrymandering, combine to make a mockery of the notion that "we can vote them out" if they're not effective. As a result, many of the politicians who loudly decry tenure in effect enjoy similar job protection. Maybe it's time we demand cuts among the staff members supporting our legislators and require them to do more with less. Have the salaries and benefits of our legislators been reduced? Have their pensions been decreased? Are they experiencing the pain that their legislation (or, in some cases inaction caused by partisan fueled gridlock) has inflicted on so many? How and when did politicians secure immunity from the excruciating economic wounds so many people are enduring? Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo criticized schools for having what he called bloated levels of administration yet I suspect that if you examine the number of staff members supporting the Governor of New York in 2011 with the number of staff members who supported the Governor of New York in 1951, or 1961, or 1971... you would discover significant growth over the years - likely for the same reasons that the ranks of school leaders have grown during that same time frame - increased regulations, requirements, expectations, responsibilities...

Sydney J. Harris declared that, "The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows." I understand that perspective. You want learners to expand their vision and their boundaries as they acquire more knowledge and gain new ideas. However, the education of a politician might be better served by reversing that quote. Perhaps our representatives should stop looking out of windows and take a close look in the mirror.

No Child Left Behind - or - Few Politician Looking Ahead? Which way are we going?

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