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NCLB Stories: Alaska

"As an elementary school physical educator, I know that physical education is the most important subject in school. A healthy body is key to a healthy mind. Unfortunately, NCLB's unintended consequences are the lack of time and importance placed on physical education in our schools. Our country is already witnessing an increase in childhood illnesses, such as juvenile diabetes and childhood obesity.

"With the emphasis on high-stakes testing in reading, math, writing, and (soon) science, schools have been forced to cut programs that ensure the health of our nation's future to create more time to study for the tests. This is a crime. 

"We owe our children a healthy future. We owe our great country a healthy future. Please revise NCLB to accomplish this.  Thank you."

Cindy Lou Aillaud
Elementary School Physical Education Teacher
Delta Junction, Alaska


 "NCLB has had a tremendous impact on my community, my school, my classroom, and myself.

"While this legislation may have been well intended, in practice it has been devastating to educators and districts across the country that are attempting to provide quality educational services at a reasonable cost. It has been particularly devastating to early childhood education practitioners and participants. 

"NCLB's requirements have strained our community's resources. Like so many other districts in the United States, the Anchorage school district has spent much time and money attempting to comply with this law. These resources would have been better spent on things that would have a direct, immediate impact on student learning and achievement in the classroom -- such as lowering class sizes and attracting and retaining quality educators.    

"Professionally, NCLB has been devastating to the teaching staff in my school. Experienced teachers are opting to retire in larger numbers. They are choosing to leave the profession rather than teach in a manner that they have found, through decades of experience, is detrimental to student learning.

"Newer educators, with five-years-or-fewer experience in the classroom, came to my building filled with enthusiasm last year. They proved amazingly competent in the classroom at engaging and motivating students to achieve their personal best. In the process, they began to rekindle in some mid-career teachers the passion for teaching that may have been lacking.

"Having such people on staff is key to keeping veteran teachers positive and committed to their quest for student achievement. It is the combination of the newer educators' excitement and new ideas with the veteran teachers' calm reasoning and experience that creates a dynamic, effective learning environment in which students and families are engaged and connected to their school community.  "Sadly, I have witnessed many newer educators who had fulfilled this key role in my building depart education because of the unnecessary amount of paperwork and the new and never-ending requirements that were placed upon them. The combination of class sizes going up while retirement benefits and wages are either going down or stagnating has been disastrous to efforts to attract and retain quality educators in our schools.      

 "NCLB's adverse impact on my classroom also has been significant. It has changed the tone of kindergarten to resemble that of the first-grade classrooms of yesteryear. Since NCLB was passed, my average class size has increased from between 15 and 18 kindergarten students to as many as 23 students.

"This has meant less time to evaluate student needs and abilities, less time to formulate plans for improvement, and less time for one-on-one contact with students. Instead, teachers have been given a one-size-fits-all scripted text curriculum that does nothing to take into account students' varying abilities and experiences.

"Kindergarten students, once able to learn through play and experience, are now required to complete an endless string of worksheets with only one recess break in a full-day program. They are told there is no time for play, as there is too much curriculum to complete.

Young children learn best through hands-on, real-life experiences that completely engage them. Since NCLB's inception, such practices have been swept aside like yesterday's news in favor of the rote memorization of facts and figures that is supposed to ensure that our five- and six-year-olds score as proficient on end-of-the-year assessments.

"Students memorize a list of sight words by chanting them daily and-although they are unable to apply these words consistently without context-are deemed proficient because they can 'read' these words when asked. The result of such stilted, limiting instruction is that students are unwilling to take risks in their reading and writing, lest they encounter something unfamiliar that they cannot reproduce with 100 percent accuracy.

"These teach-to-the-test instructional practices, which have hindered student learning and creativity, will undoubtedly have a long-lasting, negative impact on their skills as learners.   

"'Stop talking and finish your workbooks!'  Hearing this sentence from my own mouth stopped me in my tracks, sent chills up my spine, and caused me to reconsider all of what is being pushed onto early childhood educators as a result of NCLB. Completing workbook pages day after day is inappropriate for young learners who long to experience, play, act, create, draw, explore, invent, sing, experiment and - yes -- read, recite, write, and count. It is heartbreaking to see, in November, a capable, bright five-year-old crying because she cannot read the sentence on her workbook page. More than heartbreaking, it is unfair and just plain wrong.

"When considering the need for developmentally appropriate practices at the early childhood level, keep in mind the words of Robert Fulghum, author of the thought-provoking book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, as he wrote of the joy in learning:     

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but right there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned:  Share everything. Play fair. Don't hurt people. Take a nap every day. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and sing and dance and play and work some. Every day. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder.

"Key pieces are missing from today's early childhood experience. We must work to balance our children's experiences in the classroom and allow them to be aware of wonder again. Restore the magic to kindergarten, where it  belongs. Children are not machines, as NCLB legislation seems to imply. We cannot program them to complete tasks how we want, when we want. They are individuals. They progress at their own rate. Children will achieve their personal bests when they are inspired by their own curiosity or when they are ready to move from one developmental stage to the next.

"I was given the gift of a quality education by dedicated, highly trained teachers who celebrated my accomplishments and allowed me to explore my interests and progress at my own pace. I suspect many others were given this same gift. Our children deserve learning environments free of harried teachers who are trying to cover the curriculum prior to testing week. They deserve teachers who push them to use higher-level thinking skills through instruction that is grounded in research-based, developmentally appropriate practices. Teachers need the professional freedom to implement such teaching methods in their classrooms. 

"Personally, NCLB has caused me to question my choice to teach. I have a decidedly different tone now when addressing students and parents. My frustration with the required curriculum and with the manner in which I am to expected to teach my students shows, despite my efforts to appear upbeat and enthusiastic about our school day, a demeanor that is key when teaching young children. I am no longer able to explain my teaching methods and goals to parents with the confidence that I am doing what is best for their kids.

"For example, in conferences I have to check myself as I explain their child's writing progress when I know their child is capable of far more than that child is producing. Children are being limited by today's teaching materials and goals and by teaching expectations that have been determined by legislators, not educators. I am committed to education for the short term because I am confident that I am a terrific educator for the young people in my class, but I am exploring my options.

"Has every piece of the No Child Left Behind legislation been negative?  No. Standards are a good thing. They guide our instruction and assist us in planning our lessons. I am certain every new-to-grade-level or district teacher is thankful to have clear guidelines on the minimum that their students should learn during the year that student spends in their classroom; however, we, the trained, experienced educators serving the schools in your community, are the experts in our field.

"Just as the doctor is trusted to provide a medical evaluation and a lawyer is trusted to provide accurate legal advice, educators must be given the respect and trust to provide quality service in their field of expertise: educating our young people.

"Like other trained professionals, we work tirelessly every day on behalf of our students for the good of our communities, and we -- my colleagues in education and I -- deserve nothing less. Trust the experience of educators and work with us to write legislation that will benefit our students without penalizing teachers and the children we serve."  

Heather Mildon
Kindergarten Teacher
Anchorage, Alaska


"I have seen the number of students enrolled in chemistry drop since the implementation of testing. I have also noticed a drop in the level of student preparedness for chemistry. My anecdotal observations were validated by what I saw on their standards-based exam results. NCLB has set the minimum performance level necessary for students to pass the high school graduation exam but has failed to maintain high standards for all students.

"While I can continue to maintain high standards in my classroom, students who have passed their graduation exam have less incentive to push themselves to excellence. NCLB is creating a generation of students who are meeting standards that were set by political considerations rather than those that are necessary for the United States to maintain its technological and scientific edge in the world. Congress needs to allow teachers to set high standards for all students on an individual basis rather than allow political considerations to set the educational agenda."

Robert Taylor
High School Teacher
Anchorage, Alaska