One Nation Left Behind

“One Nation Left Behind” Campaign

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Without a good education, children are left behind.  Americans understand this.  Yet, most do not acknowledge, in the United States, very few young persons receive quality instruction.  American children do not learn to think critically, creatively, or comprehensively in comparison to those in other countries.  Even students enrolled in excellent schools do not excel as children elsewhere do.  Internationally, the information published in a 2002, United Nations Children’s Fund, [UNICEF] study exposed a frightening truth; America pupils and schools receive poor grades when student performance and instruction are assessed.  Today, the American education system remains at risk.  As a recent report reinforces, today as we observe our offspring, we must consider the necessity of change.  It is time to make Tough Choices (in these) Tough Times.  This nation, left behind, must commit to teach our children well.

As adolescents, an individual who was not taught to analyze autonomously may do well.  As an adult, this same person will struggle to survive in the workforce.  While he or she may do well in school, as adults, people learn there is more to life than test taking.  Once out in the world, each of us receives the lesson rarely taught in the classroom, or at least one that is not taught as well.  Without the habit of hale and hearty intellectual activity, opportunities to expand in life are few.  A diploma deficiency can also make daily doings difficult.  Service jobs, which require little creative, innovative, and imagintive thought, will be all that is available to one who learned only how to prepare for and take tests.  

Accountability, while a noble concept, when calculated with abundant disregard for intellectual curiosity, quells a society’s greatest need.  The future is found in our youth.  Sadly, in recent years we, as a country have counted on tallies to tell us whether our children have learned.  In today’s schools our young acquire some, selective knowledge.  Teens and tots have mastered the methods necessary to improve Math, Science, and reading scores.  At least, the little ones have worked to secure these skills.  

In classrooms throughout the country, our offspring memorize and mechanically mouth the “facts” our ancestors discovered long ago.  Very few are instructed to think beyond what others in the past believed were the boundaries.  Unlike ancients who questioned accepted theories such as the Earth is flat, our progeny are trained to consent to a construct that may not be correct.  In America, people are so confident that what is currently considered the truth is accurate; we do not encourage our children to explore.

Moms, Dads, mentors, and the policymakers, who tell educators what to teach, confine children to rooms where dictums are delivered.  The statements, “Answer the question,”  “Do not ask why,” and “Do not turn the page” dominates the current curriculum.  “Silent.  Test in progress,” is a sign that hangs from many a door in educational institutions.  Pupils are told to mark a Scantron™ or bubble the circle in completely.  The only query frequently heard in American schools is, “Do you have a number 2 pencil?”

Boredom sets in amongst students whose minds crave creative activity.  Disheartened and dejected, millions of potentially scholarly pupils, dropout.  Intellectually, emotionally, and physically our offspring have dropped out in droves since No Child Left Behind was introduced in this nation’s schools.  However, this program is but an extension of a trend put in place by politicians who wish to embrace the popular notion, people must be held responsible.  Teachers, learners, and school Administrators need to document the acquisition of knowledge.

In today’s society, the focus is more on scores, tallies, totals, than it is on the child.  Hence, examinations are used to make high stake decisions.  In America, an evaluation administered on any given day in the life of a little one, determines whether a student is an achiever, or ultimately a failure.  A child’s school career can be crushed hours after he was told his parents would divorce, her father passed, or someone he or she loves is seriously ill.  

The statistics show that in the more than seven years that this policy has been law we have seen that a “high-stakes accountability system has a direct impact on the severity of the dropout problem.”  

The “original” premise behind the No Child Left Behind program or any plan that dictates a child must quash curiosity in favor of existing “factual” documentation is “Schools and students held accountable to these measures [standardized, high-stakes, test-based accountability] will automatically increase educational output.”  However, in a report titled, “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis,” researchers reveal . . .

The reality is far different.  The findings of this study show that the accountability system itself is complicit in the very losses it claims to reverse.  The losses are avoidable, but not while this accountability system governs schools.

Perhaps, the possibility of better days and an improved instructional methodology is the reason educators have rallied ’round the Republican Convention and rolled out an unprecedented proclamation. America is One Nation Left Behind.  A nonprofit alliance “dedicated to increasing the dialogue about the state of public education in the United States” hopes to garner the attention of gadabouts, Convention goers, and government officials.  

Strong American Schools or representatives of this organization, also participated in the activities in Denver during the Democratic National Convention.  They understand politicians in each Party were, are, and will be responsible for reform, or the lack of change in the nation’s curriculum.

While sensitive to the source of the No Child Left Behind program the Grand Old Party President, George W. Bush, seasoned educators and experts in instruction are aware, Democrats also helped to hand down the decree that has destroyed American schools.  A bipartisan commitment to calculations over curiosity closed the doors to many an American mind.

That said, perchance, aware of the support for standardized educational plans amongst Republicans, this organization led by Roy Romer, a former Colorado Governor and Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Schools, chose this week to prominently share what they believe must be an essential message in a Presidential election year.  

Strong American Schools, the group behind the ED in ’08 campaign to boost debate about education in the presidential campaign, has a full-page ad in this morning’s St. Paul Pioneer Press that bluntly says, “Our schools are failing.”

The ad, in the newspaper’s special news section on the Republican National Convention, displays a ranking of national flags showing the United States as 21st in the world in science. (The fine print cites several assessments, including two from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

“The countries with the best schools attract the best jobs,” the ad says.  “If jobs move to countries like Finland and South Korea, your child’s opportunities dry up. And so does our economy.”

Although, most Americans claim the economy is the most important issue, in the first Presidential political debates, not one of the aspirants who wished to sit in the Oval Office mentioned education reform.  Those who vied for the presidency did not think it vital to speak of our students, or the American school system.  Citizens, perhaps trained to be apathetic, did not voice what must be a deep-seated source of distress if the United States is to grow truly successful children.  Curriculums must encourage  critical thought.

In the initial televised Democratic and Republican conversations with Americans, there was no mention of what citizens do not wish to consider.   In education, America is not number one.  This country is ranked at 21.  Internationally, in twenty other countries a higher percentage of students graduate from High School.  Seventy percent of eight-graders do not read at grade level.  Ninety-three percent of Middle School Science instructors are not trained in the discipline they teach.  The United States is the only developed nation to have a zero percentage increase in the number of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees awarded.

What those who wish to give birth to a strong America believe is, if America is to thrive, as a community, we must act on our awareness.  Children must be encouraged to think for themselves.  Elders must place education first if this country is to be number one, two, or even three.  Indeed, where the United States ranks on a scale is not nearly as significant as what we teach our children.

If this society is to succeed, Americans must embrace education for the Seventh Generation.  Each of us must prepare our progeny to be critical, creative, and curious thinkers.

The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.

~ Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American Author, Editor and Printer.

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.

~ Carl Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) American Psychologist

Education, properly understood, is that which teaches discernment.

~ Joseph Roux (1725-1793) French Cartographer and Hydrographer


School Supplies and Sources . . .

Wexler, Gutierrez, Baldwin, Kucinich, and the People Call For Cheney Censure

Rep. Wexler Wants Cheney Impeachment Hearings

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

May I offer my sincerest gratitude to Representatives, Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, and Tammy Baldwin.  These glorious members of the House Judiciary Committee, recently raised the volume on the issue of impeachment for Vice President Cheney.  The three invite us, the average citizen, to join them.  Please express your distress; sign the petition.  Call for Hearings. Without you the Vice President will continue to avoid an official and necessary censure.

Please sign the petition. Join Congressman Wexler’s Call For Cheney impeachment Hearings.

Please do not stop there.  Americans have seen what occurs when we are complacent.  For too long Congressman Dennis Kucinich spoke of what many thought obvious, and only a few listened.  

Throughout his term, Vice President, Richard B. Cheney acted on questionable  information.  He made decisions that many considered problematic.  Cheney “may” have committed numerous “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  However, no matter how many millions of Americans joined in the call to censure, the cry was hushed.  The mainstream media barely and rarely spoke of the measure.  Only a scant number of Representatives endorsed House Resolution 333, submitted by the Representative from Ohio.

As House leaders sat silent, Vice President Cheney continued to violate the doctrine known as the United States Constitution.  He did so without charge or challenge.  

For years, Richard B. Cheney declared the Executive Branch has “supreme” power.  Many scoffed; however, Congress initiated no formal action.  The Vice President did not stop doing as he pleased.  Complaints from the House and the Senate mounted; yet, Cheney remained safe from censure.

It seemed the Vice President’s skin, and his contempt for law, were impenetrable.  Richard B. Cheney refused and rebuffs accountability.

The Vice President prefers aggression and plans attacks against other Nation States.  Until now Congress, and the American people stood by.  Finally, the tide may have turned.  

Each day, Americans and Legislators discover much occurred within the White House walls over the last seven years.  We are increasingly certain the Vice President acted with dubious authority.  The more we learn, the more we realize a need to impeach Richard B. Cheney.  Representatives and House Judiciary Committee Members Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, Tammy Baldwin, and the cyberspace community have stated their extreme concern.  However, just as Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich realized during his campaign to hold Cheney accountable, the media would rather not address this state of affairs.

If we the people are to be served, if we are to honor the rights afforded us by the United States Constitution, we must do more than wait for Congress to act.  Our signature on a petition will not be enough to convince a reluctant House Speaker that it is time to embrace this cause.  I invite you to submit a Letter to the Editor of any and every newspaper.  For Representative Wexler alone, although he tried, cannot create the news storm necessary for impeachment.

I offer my own submission for your review.  Please request coverage.  Ask Journalist nationwide to report on more than this Administration wants us to hear.  I thank you for all that you are and all that you do.

If you wish to use my letter, without the links and signature, I offer a Portable Document Format [pdf] version.

  • Letter to the Editor, Call to Cover Cheney Impeachment Hearings.

  • Dearest Editorial Staff . . .

    I am aware of a troublesome campaign to ignore the call to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.  I write to express my distress and to request coverage.

    On Florida Progressive Radio, Representative Robert Wexler spoke of what he and his colleagues experienced when they submitted an Op-Ed essay on the topic.  The major print media outlets did not publish this important treatise on impeachment.  The message was not muffled; it was ostensibly silenced.

    The mainstream media acted as though an investigation into the practices within the Oval Office, or the Office of the Vice President, were permanently “off the table.”  No matter the outcry from the masses, the media continues to dismiss the call.  

    Auspiciously, after the news organizations cast the cry for censure aside, Representative Wexler turned to the public.  The cyberspace community connected to the memorandum the Congressman and his colleagues wrote.  Those that surf the Web not only endorsed the crucial communication, Internet users garnered greater support for the proposition.  An ambitious online effort heralded the need for immediate impeachment hearings.  Within a short time, more than a hundred thousand signers stated they were in favor of a move to censure Vice President Dick Cheney.  

    Constitutional scholars have warned us.  The precedent we set when we overlook what an arrogant Administration does will forever damage our nation.  If Americans do not uphold democratic principles, we weaken our Constitution.

    For too long, Presidential aspirant Dennis Kucinich has been a lone Congressional voice.  On more than one occasion, Kucinich spoke of the need to censure Vice President Cheney.  In November 2007, Representative Kucinich presented a Privileged Motion on the floor of the House.  Even that bold overture received little press.  

    Nonetheless, some of his fellow Representatives considered the possibility.  With the introduction of new evidence, three prominent Representatives felt as though they too had reason to move forward with an investigation and hearings.  

    Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all Members of the House Judiciary Committee, considered the novel revelation offered by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.  The Vice President and his staff purposefully gave then Press Secretary McClellan false information about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert Central Intelligence agent.  Dick Cheney and his team intentionally chose to release erroneous reports to the American people.  This realization prompted the newly stated and amplified concern for impeachment.  

    Only after much protest from readers did the Miami Herald print an edited version of the original letter from the Representatives.  However, it seems that Florida publication and all other periodicals are happy to leave the issue behind.  We, the people are not willing to remain silent.

    The need to impeach is imperative.  I implore you.  I invite your newspaper to truly inform Americans.  Rather than encourage apathy, please tell the people, print, more than the White House wants us to know.

    Sincerely . . .

    Betsy L. Angert


    Dear friends, family, and familiars; I thank you all for your interest and participation in the process.  On behalf of Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Representatives, Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, Tammy Baldwin, our country, and the Constitution may I extend my deepest appreciation for your thoughts, words, and deeds.  We can only hope that United, America will peacefully stand strong again.  We cannot know unless and until we begin to censure those that fight against us.  We are one, or were, the United States of America, a democratic nation, of, by, and for the people.  Together we can take our country back.

    References and Resources in Support of Impeachment Hearings . . .

    Policymakers Applaud Marginal Gains on History Test

    Sec. Spellings admits lacks of educational credentials.

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    Quick, answer these questions.  You are being timed.  However, do not feel pressured.  Do the best that you can.  Our school literally depends on you.  Your performance on these examinations will determine  whether our district or this facility receives Federal funding.  Do not open your test booklet until I tell you to do so.  When you are finished, close the pamphlet, put your pencil down, and sit quietly.  You may begin.The voyages of Columbus changed life in Europe by  . . .
    A) introducing new foods and spices to Europe
    B) showing Europeans a shorter route to Asia
    C) introducing the horse to Spain
    D) proving that the Earth was flat

    In what year did Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin?  More importantly, What was a major effect of the introduction of the cotton gin?  Name the first permanent English settlement in North America.  What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858?  Stop!  Close your booklet.  Place your future in my hands for now.  I will pass your answers on to the authorities.  Notes and Scantrons will be evaluated.  Ultimately, a big bureaucrat will decide.  Did you learn your lessons well?  Was my teaching to the test effective?  Might we all be rewarded for the rote recall that now defines education?  Well, that depends on how the government spins the story.  By the way, the answer to the first question is “A.”  The journeys made by Christopher Columbus introduced new foods and spices to European citizens.

    You, dear reader, recall the drill.  We have all experienced the trauma, drama, and thrill of standardized testing.  In recent years, the excitement is expanding.  Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, our children take standardized tests more regularly.  The rewards for doing well are ample.  The punishment for doing poorly is, some say, excessive.  Nevertheless, students must be “accountable.”  Scores are scrutinized.  The New York Times states, Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History; nevertheless, as a whole, the pupils in this nation improved. 

    At least, that is the opinion of officials in the Federal government.

    Federal officials said they considered the results encouraging because at each level tested, student performance had improved since the last time the exam was administered, in 2002.

    “In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades,” said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, at a Boston news conference that the Education Department carried by Webcast.

    The government is proclaiming the educational system in America is  better than it was and the progress will continue.  According, to the Washington Post Department of Education personnel state . . . .

    The nation’s fourth-graders have shown significant gains in U.S. history and civics test scores, federal researchers reported yesterday, a development that — coupled with similar recent advances in reading, math and science — experts attribute in large part to an intense national focus on reading in early grades.

    Educators said they were also heartened by significant improvement in 12th-grade U.S. history scores, the first national gain in any high school subject in eight years.  The rise in elementary social studies scores, once considered in the doldrums, drew the most attention.

    Such accolades, welcome progress and yet, there seems to be little concern for what is not working well.

    [M]ore than half of high school seniors still showed poor command of basic facts like the effect of the cotton gin on the slave economy or the causes of the Korean War.

    Excuses can be made.  Indeed, Federal spokespersons are offering explanations that seem feasible.  These High School seniors were educated under the older more lax system.  Now, since No Child Left Behind was initiated, schools are moving back to basics.  Today, students are succeeding in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Better reading skills help pupils to extrapolate.  The failings will never occur again, for learners that perform poorly will not be allowed to advance to the next grade or graduate with their classmates. 

    Department administrators prefer to highlight the successes.  These are evident for the most part, only in the lower fourth grade results.

    Since 2002, beginning in Head Start programs, and continuing into the twelfth grade, pupils are required to pass rigid and rote examinations.  Students of all sizes, shapes, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences must meet specific minimal standards.  Each scholar is assessed as his or her peers are, even if their background and aptitude vary.  Every educator must be “accountable.”  There are no allowances or expectations.  All are judged equally. 

    Educators argue against this unyielding system.  Parents complain as imaginative programs are cut.  Pupils are bored; however, these individuals are powerless against the Bush Administration.  Over the years, some schools have chosen to be different and suffer the consequences.

    Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test
    By Marc Fisher 
    Washington Post
    Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01

    Teachers grumble and moan about how politicians’ love affair with tests has turned education into a grim mission to teach creative young minds how to darken the ovals completely and neatly.

    Parents complain about the lost arts and athletics, the exciting labs and imaginative lessons that schools cut out to make way for classes on the art and science of taking standardized tests.

    But rarely do public schools take a stand on behalf of the children left behind by the very law that promises to carry them forward.

    This summer, Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church put down a marker.  A letter sent to every parent said teachers are being forced to spend “valuable instructional time preparing students to take the Standards of Learning tests, to the exclusion of activities that extend and deepen student learning, integrate the arts with content, and allow students to develop and pursue their own questions.”

    The letter said Bailey’s, which as Fairfax County’s first magnet elementary school attracts immigrant families from its Culmore neighborhood and more affluent families from across the county, will still teach children how to think like scientists and historians, even though “this is not what standardized tests measure or encourage.”

    The letter was more than an ideological tract.  It was a warning to parents that in the next few weeks, they may find their school declared failing under the federal government’s No Child Left Behind protocols.

    The problem is that about 77 percent of Bailey’s students are immigrants, many of whom come to school knowing little or no English.  The law requires the school to bring an ever-higher percentage of those students up to grade level each year.  Bailey’s, like most schools with large populations of poor or non-English-speaking students, isn’t hitting its numbers.

    “It’s an ax hanging over our heads,” says Jean Frey, the principal, who has to explain to parents that if Bailey’s is declared failing, the county could fire its teachers, and families would have the right to transfer to another school.

    “I have no problem with being accountable,” Frey says.  “As a citizen, I want these kids to grow up to be literate problem-solvers.”  But she will not shutter her science lab, pull the plug on theatrical productions, or tell teachers to scrap a literature discussion to drill kids on test facts.

    “The testing itself is enormously time-consuming,” Frey says.  “We give up over two weeks in May to the tests.  So, the rest of the year, we try very hard not to do ‘SOL Prep Time,’ like many schools do.  How important is it to know how to fill in ABCD?  I don’t do that very often as an adult.”

    The elders at Bailey’s Elementary school believe what we do in our careers and with our lives rarely relates to the mechanical “facts” we learn in school.  These educators acknowledge as many a scientist might “facts are fluid.”  They often change over time.  Only this week we learned that Darwin did not discover what he expected to find.  The scientist wrote . . .

    At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.

    Yet, the current educational system acts as though they are.  Individuals are thought to be standard or subordinate.  Information is considered a constant.  Data is indisputable.  Events must be interpreted as reported in a particular historical text, and problems have one absolute answer.  The correct response is the one dictated by National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

    When we as a society believe or accept that conclusions are unchallengeable, we no longer strive to challenge the minds of our children.  We state No Child will be Left Behind; yet most are when American students learn to improve their memories while forfeiting their mental capacity. 

    The technique that interprets scores as success or failure is often referred to as “teaching to the test.”  This method is frequently questioned.  The Bailey’s School was not the first or only institution to reject the practice.  This instructional method has its supporters and its detractors.  Each argument may be apt and well stated.  However, I believe the question is of greater concern than the answers might be.  I think what is most important is that we “teach to the individual.”  As we evaluate further, we might better understand why the rise in scores is of little consequence in the real world.

    Educational experts understand that students are well served if instructors are sensitive to the needs of their pupils as the unique persons they are.  Learning modalities must be addressed.  Relevancy needs to be realized if a student is to authentically acquire knowledge. 

    Giving grades, assessing moments, and memories does not establish or ensure that what was “learned” will last for a lifetime.  Yet, under the current system grades not depth are crucial.

    The ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create is no longer as important as the details are.  Critical thinking skills, those that develop through discussion take time and discipline.  Teachers no longer have the minutes or hours needed for genuine instruction.  They can only assist students in understanding the process of elimination in the event that the “fact” escapes you. 

    Let us truly assess what occurs when we do not teach critical thinking skills. The recent History and civic scores are revealing.

    A sampling of what eighth-graders know about U.S. history:

  • 64 percent identified an impact of the cotton gin
  • 43 percent explained goals of the Martin Luther King Jr. march
  • 1 percent explained how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected foreign policy

    A sampling of what eighth-graders know about civics:

  • 80 percent identified a notice for jury duty
  • 63 percent determined an instance of abuse of power
  • 28 percent explained the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence

    Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress reports

  • You might notice from the results the depth of knowledge is limited.  Obviously, children are being left behind.  Schools inevitably fall below minimum standards.  Requirements are not met.  In accordance with the law, educational facilities will not receive funding or they will be taken over if they do not perform as prescribed.  The Administration declares, research has proven punitive measures work to motivate minds, or so we are told.

    It seems the incentive to succeed on strict and binding evaluations left educators with few choices.  Courses were cut.  Curriculums adjusted, and schedules were changed.

    A number of studies have shown that because No Child Left Behind requires states to administer annual tests in math and reading, and punishes schools where scores in those subjects fail to rise, many schools have reduced time spent on other subjects, including history.  In a recent study, Martin West, an education professor at Brown, used federal data to show that during 2003-4, first- and sixth-grade teachers spent 23 fewer minutes a week on history than during 1999-2000.

    However, the government counters, fourth graders scored higher in their history examinations.

    The best results in the history test were also in fourth grade, where 70 percent of students attained the basic level of achievement or better.

    Imagine, only seventy percent understood the most basic concepts.  This result is thought to be excellent by Federal spokespersons.  Twelfth graders are said to be the exception.  The Administration laments, these young persons fell so far behind due to less stringent earlier instruction and evaluations.  No Child Left Behind laws are challenging adolescents to achieve after years of neglect.  Federal officials say, prior to the preferred rigidity of No Child Left Behind, standards were lax.  It is for this reason the results are less than stellar.

    The tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, divide achievement levels into basic, proficient and advanced.  The 2006 history assessment had the highest percentage of 12th-grade students scoring below basic of any subject tested in 2005 and 2006.

    However, there are concerns beyond  the scores of High School seniors.

    [O]nly 1 percent of students at any grade level scored at the advanced level.

    The history test was given to a national sample of 29,200 fourth, 8th- and 12th-grade students.  Among the results were these:

    ¶Some 47 percent of the 12th graders performed at the basic level or above.  In 2001, 43 percent were at or above basic.

    ¶Sixty-five percent of eighth graders achieved the basic level or better, up from 62 percent six years ago.

    ¶Seventy percent of fourth graders attained or exceeded the basic level, compared with 66 percent in 2001.  Even this result, however, left 30 percent who, for instance, lacked an ability to identify even the most familiar historic figures or explain the reasons for celebrating national holidays.

    While the Federal bureaucrats, those who dole out the dough believe the gains demonstrate progress, educators and experts do not think the statistics give reason for celebration.  They are concerned; Americans scholars rank far below those in other nations.  The advent of the newer tests and standards are lessening the quality and time allotted to genuine instruction.  Rote is promulgated and critical thinking is rarely part of the current curriculum.  There just is not enough time, particularly when punitive measures for not achieving as the Administration thinks best are but a step away.  Professional educators say this report does not inspire hope.

    “It’s heartwarming that the test organizers have found positive things to say, but this report is not anything to break out the Champagne over,” said Theodore K. Rabb, a professor of history at Princeton who advocates devoting more classroom time to the subject.

    The civics exam was given to a national sample of 25,300 4th, 8th, and 12th graders.  Seventy-three percent of fourth-grade pupils performed at the basic level or better, up from 69 percent in 1998, the last time the civics exam was administered.  The scores of 8th and 12th graders showed no change.

    “What is most discouraging is that as students grow older and progress through the grades towards adulthood and eligibility to vote, their civic knowledge and dispositions seems to grow weaker,” said David W. Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County School District in California, who is a member of the board that sets policies for the test.

    By contrast, the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings thought the scores superb.  For Secretary Spellings, the result reiterated the Administration’s claims, schools are now showing themselves accountable.  They are offering a foundation for all knowledge.  The Secretary, in a retort to detractors stated . . .

    “When students know how to read and comprehend,” Ms. Spellings said, “they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics.”

    It seems the solution amongst instructors and  historians is we must examine a student’s knowledge of history more frequently.  Apparently, in the original No Child Left Behind law, learners were given Reading and Math test every other year.  History evaluations were scheduled every five to seven years.  Thus . . .

    In Washington, Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, reintroduced a bill on Wednesday based on the premise that the National Assessment gave history short shrift, testing it every five to seven years instead of every other year as with reading and math. Their legislation would require national history tests every four years, with more students tested.

    David McCullough, John Hope Franklin, Douglas Brinkley and dozens of other prominent historians have sent Congress a petition urging the bill’s passage.

    It seems today, teachers are told to teach only lessons that correlate to tests.  Evaluations no longer assess authentic knowledge.  Tests are designed  to pay the bills.  I think we must ask ourselves, what are we teaching.  Why do we instruct as we do, and are we doing a disservice to our children and society?  I believe the answers to these questions might help, if or when we ever choose to evaluate ourselves.

    References, Resources.  Read Carefully.  There may be a test . . .

  • Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • pdf Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History, By Sam Dillon.  The New York Times. May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews.
    Washington Post.
    Thursday, May 17, 2007; A09

  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics. Cable News Network. May 17, 2007
  • Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • pdf Falls Church School Won’t Teach to the Test. By Marc Fisher. Washington Post. Tuesday, October 12, 2004; Page B01
  • Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • pdf Word For Word, My Dear Fellow Species, By Mary Jo Murphy.  The New York Times. May 20, 2007
  • Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf Let’s Teach to the Test, By Jay Mathews.  Washington Post. Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
  • ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf ‘Teach to the Test’? What Test? By Colman McCarthy.  Washington Post. Saturday, March 18, 2006; Page A21
  • Tests show students learn basics in history, civics.  Cable News Network.  May 17, 2007
  • Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • pdf Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores, Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally. By Jay Mathews. Washington Post. Thursday, May 17, 2007; Page A09
  • Schools Serve Students Not Customers

    copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

    Originally Published Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Many deem the school system is broken.  Improvement will come when elementary, middle, and high schools operate as businesses do.  Educational institutions need a plan.  Districts must select the best teachers and require these mentors to shape their students.  Standardized curriculums sensitive to the calendar and standardized test, policymakers posit, will serve our children well.  Principals and parents, all but students speak in harmony.  These experts in education speak in unison.  Today, philanthropists concur.  Corporate Chief Executives also sing in chorus.  Adults concerned with accurate calculations and “matters of consequence” adopt the stance, “It is just that simple.”

    Achievement is the goal.  Pupils, Principals, and of course the Teachers in the trenches must be “accountable.”  Citizens are willing to pay only for performance.  Schools must prove to be worthy.  Thus, it is believed standards must be set.  No Child can be Left Behind.  [As a country, we must Race To the Top.] Every youngster in America ought to meet minimum academic proficiencies in every disciple is the collective cry.

    Mastery will be mandated and goals met in Reading and Math, Science too.  Compulsory requirements for Scholars will imposed in every subject area.  Modern society necessitates that our students excel, at least in Reading, ‘Rithmetics, and Relativity.  These move all else on the globe, or so are the trendy thoughts in modern-day education.

    Every one of us is told that we live in a competitive world.  Tycoons will tell you that Total Quality Management brings out the best in people.  Indeed, innumerable citizens American citizens concur. “Continuous improvement” must be the mission statement adopted by each school District nationwide.

    Children need be tested.  Exams must be uniform; that will ensure that the statistics gathered are precise.  Scores will be mathematically measured.  Charts graphed.  Students and Teachers ranked.  Funding will be appropriated as it is in business.  If a school does well, it will profit.  If the educational institution, or the students fail, so be it.  The public cries, we cannot continue to subsidize a program that reaps few if any rewards.

    This is the mindset in today’s America.  A former business executive and Attorney, Jamie Robert Vollmer felt that way.  However, that was in a time now past.  Currently, Mister Vollmer works as a motivational speaker and consultant.  His intent is to advance awareness.  Jamie Vollmer strives to increase community support for public schools.  In his novel role he shares this telling tale . . .

    The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

    By Jamie Robert Vollmer

    “If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”

    I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

    I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

    I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society”. Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

    In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced – equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

    As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant — she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

    She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”

    I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

    “How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

    “Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

    “Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

    “Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

    “Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock, and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

    In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap?. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

    “I send them back.”

    “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

    In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”

    And so began my long transformation.

    Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

    None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission, and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that, schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

    Reprinted with permission from the March 6, 2002 issue of Education Week

    Copyright 2002, by Jamie Robert Vollmer

    Those of us who have spent many a long hour with batches of blueberries know that bruised or battered, these are the ingredients.  Just as Bakers, Grocers, or Ice-Cream-Makers, Teachers cannot select only the best. Nor can a mentor tell whether what appears to be spoiled is, in fact, ripened to perfection.  At times, the crop seems immature or inadequately prepared.  However, one never really knows until you bite into the fruit.  If a Teacher touches the spoiled surface tenderly, cuts away the wounded skin, and believes that he or she can create a delicacy that is delectable and delicious, then perhaps they will.

    At times, an Educator, just as an individual may be as Shakespeare offers.

    “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”  

    ~ Shakespeare: Hamlet, IV, c. 1601

    References and Resources . . .

    Children and Schools Are Left Behind. No Dentist Languish.

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.
    ~ Alec Bourne [Educator]

    Two years ago, in Literacy and The Bush Legacy I penned this proposition.

    Our current President considers himself a champion in the arena of education.  He believes that his program, “No Child Left Behind,” is the shining light of his career.

    Today, George W. Bush continues on his quest towards dimming the naturally brilliant minds of our progeny minds.  The President proposes we renew the education law.

    George W. Bush thinks teaching to the test is wise.  Mister Bush  believes innovation, imagination, and invention are unnecessary in a classroom.  Students must be accountable.  Schools must teach core competencies in their curriculum.  According to the President, our children can only achieve excellence if the standards are high.  We must reward success and sanction failure.

    Nationwide, Principals and professional educators are questioning the instructional methods imposed by this Administration.  Urban schools are struggling to meet the “standards.”  Rachel B. Tompkins, President of the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) in Washington, wrote, “No one argues with the lofty goals of this legislation.  No one argues that accountability is not a good thing.  What is wrong with the No Child Left Behind Act is that its cookie-cutter approach, like many other well-meaning, one-size-fits-all education policies, will almost certainly leave rural schools, and rural children behind.”  With all the talk of what is and is not working, there is much confusion. 

    Those that do not work in the schools may feel saturated.  There is too much information, too little, and the terms are unfamiliar.  A fellow educator helped to explain the program by offering a novel perspective.  I present to you . . .

    No Dentist Left Behind

    My dentist is great!  He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups.

    He uses the latest techniques based on research.  He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth.

    When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program.  I knew he’d think it was great.

    “Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?”  I said.

    “No,” he said.  He didn’t seem too thrilled.  “How will they do that?”

    “It’s quite simple,” I said.  “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating.  Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory.  That way parents will know which are the best dentists.  The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said.  “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

    “That’s terrible,” he said.

    “What?  That’s not a good attitude,” I said.  “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”

    “Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”

    “Why not?”  I said.  “It makes perfect sense to me.”

    “Well, it’s so obvious,” he said.  “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control?  For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods.  Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work.  Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.  To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water, which is untreated and has no fluoride in it.  Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

    “It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said.  “I can’t believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive.  After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”

    “I am not being defensive!” he said.  “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

    “Don’t’ get touchy,” I said.

    “Touchy?” he said.  His face had turned red, and from the way, he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth.

    “Try furious!  In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse.  The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist.  They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients.  And my cavity average score will get even worse.  On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

    “I think you are overreacting,” I said.  “‘Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’…I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

    “What’s the DOC?” he asked.

    “It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

    “Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this.  Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.

    The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

    “Come watch me work,” he said.  “Observe my processes.”

    “That’s too complicated, expensive and time- consuming,” I said.  “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line.  It’s an absolute measure.”

    “That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think.  This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

    “Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair.  The state will help you some.”

    “How?” he asked.

    “If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.

    “You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience?  BIG HELP!”

    “There you go again,” I said.  “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

    “You don’t get it,” he said.  “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that.  Why would they do something so unfair to dentists?  No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

    I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.  “I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said.  “I’ll use the school analogy.  Surely they will see the point.”

    He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I, as a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.

    By John S.  Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the Lancaster County, PA, School District.

    Be a friend to a teacher and pass this on.

    Timothy Hoey Principal Nottingham Middle/Colbert Elementary

    I hope this lesson has been instructive.  Perhaps, presenting a parallel has been helpful.  There are no facts and formulas to recall.  I offer no final exam on this material.  Unlike our President, I believe learning lasts a lifetime when we relate to information.  In my experience, rote and routine rarely reap the rewards Mister Bush expects. 

    For me, effective learning evolves when we love the process.  My hope is this analysis was pure pleasure.  Please feel free to share this tale.  Teach the concept of No Child Left Behind as you will.  Your approach need not be standard.  Your pupils are likely unique.  As the President is often heard to say, “I understand.”

    References for Your Review . . .

  • “No Child Left Behind” United States Department of Education.
  • Literacy and The Bush Legacy By Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.
  • Can A “One size fits All” Law Meet the Diverse Needs of Urban and Rural Schoolchildren?  National Access Network, Teachers College, Columbia University