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No Two Students Alike

Next President Must Confront NCLB Deficiencies

Dave Arnold

If you examine each grain of sand in a desert, you will find each tiny particle to be different. No two are exact in shape, color, or composition.

Likewise, there are no two people exactly the same. Even identical twins have distinct personalities, fingerprints, and DNA.

To think otherwise is contrary to science and creation. But that is exactly what our government has mandated in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Although January 8, 2008 marks the sixth anniversary of the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the current version of (ESEA), it is January 7 that is being celebrated by National Education Association (NEA) members.

On the eve of the bill 's anniversary, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Education Department Secretary Spellings is violating the Spending Clause of the Constitution by requiring states and school districts to spend their own funds to comply with the law.

"The court's message couldn't be more clear: If the president is sincere about continuing No Child Left Behind, he needs to put his money where his mouth is," said NEA President Reg Weaver. "The president refuses to budge on NCLB, his flagship domestic policy, but unless he takes action it is clearly a sinking ship."

Common-sense Flexibility

NEA has expressed support for NCLB's goals -- raising student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and providing every child with a qualified teacher. These match NEA's belief that great public schools are a basic right for every child.For NCLB to succeed, Congress must not only provide funding but also shift from its one-size-fits-all accountability system. Just like every child is different, every school is unique.

I've never met columnist Charley Reese, but in a recent article for the Associated Press he says: "One thing the next president should do is ax the No Child Left Behind law. Essentially, it mandates that by a certain time, students should perform the same in academic skills. That is as stupid and unscientific as decreeing that every child run the 100-yard dash in the same time." Reese continues: "More importantly, teachers given a classroom full of individual differences and backgrounds should not be blamed for failing to achieve politically decreed uniform results, except by fraud."

Educator Input

It seems to me that NCLB was destined for failure since the start because it's an education bill that was not designed by educators. NEA's comprehensive "Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization," offers detailed recommendations to improve the law. It was developed with input from thousands of NEA members who have lived with the negative consequences of this legislation. 

NCLB has also failed because it's been an unfunded mandate. This failure translated into a projected funding gap of approximately $14.8 billon for NCLB programs in the next school year, on top of the previous cumulative gap of $56.1 billion.

Break the Mold

The lack of funding is bad enough, but the unrealistic expectations placed on students is what really burns me. Some students take tests better than others. Like grains of sand, every child is different and should not be judged solely by test scores.

Before endorsing a candidate at the NEA Representative Assembly in July or at the ballot box in November, we should know what candidates intend to do about NCLB. And we should be certain that they do not expect every student in the nation to fit into the same government mold.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.