NCLB Stories: Minnesota
"I am both a teacher and a parent. I teach high-school science and have been dismayed by the low skill levels of my incoming students. With the emphasis placed on math and reading throughout the lower grade levels, other curricular areas are being ignored. My older daughter, who is in the fourth grade, studied science for only six weeks of the school year. My younger daughter, in second grade, studied science for eight weeks, but not much of the curricula was truly science.
"While math and reading skills are vitally important, other skills are equally important to ensure the development of multi-skilled individuals. In order for the United States to remain competitive in the global economy, we must teach more science and attract more students to science.
"Please consider how the NCLB's unfunded mandates are negatively affecting the next generation of Americans—and make the necessary changes to ensure a full education for all."
Callie Bush Miller
High School Teacher
Fridley ISD #14
"As I enter my 13th year of teaching, I have seen many changes in what really is such a short time, but what stands out to me the most is what our schools are currently facing.
"I teach high-school students with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders and traumatic brain injuries, as well as students with autism spectrum disorder and ADD/ADHD. I have watched as programs have been cut, teachers and paraeducators have been laid off, and the fine arts—which includes music, foods, and so much more—have also been cut. My students have lost the classes they need in order to fundamentally survive and be functional citizens in this country.
"Now we are judged by the test scores our children receive. Q comp has passed in our district in order to save programs, which means the government is in control of all of our lives and now controls what our children are taught. Is this accountability? Can LD students who may make leaps in one year truly pass a test that they have difficulty reading? Can my traumatic brain injury students be tested on information when they have no recognition skills? The questions are endless ... and the answer is no.
"This year I heard from one of my students who happened to be in jail. He said, 'Ms. Miller, I wish I would have listened to you. Had I not dropped out of school, I would not be where I am. My only wish is that I could have had at least one class that I enjoyed walking into every day.' This student was an artist, a tremendous artist. Our art department was cut one year prior, due to ESEA and the district's focus on AYP."
Lisa Marie Miller
High School Special Education Teacher
District 622- NSPMO
In St. Paul, the heavy emphasis on reading has reduced access to exploratory and enrichment classes for students who need to meet the reading-improvement goals. Such students may have a talent for music, but instead they are required to spend an extra half-period in reading instruction.
"In an example of 'cutting off the nose to spite the face,' elementary schools are getting rid of licensed librarians in favor of reading teachers. Here we are trying to make reading a lifelong experience, and we're cutting access to literacy specialists."
Mary Cathryn Ricker
Teacher/president of St. Paul Federation of Teachers
St. Paul, Minnesota
"After 12 years spent teaching in the classroom—and loving what I do —I can honestly say that I have never felt so much frustration on a daily basis. Not only has it affected me, but I have watched it affect all of my colleagues. Because of this downward spiral, I have made it my passion to stand up and do something about the flaws that exist with the current version of the ESEA/No Child Left Behind Act.
"I take this stand more for the students that I am in contact with each day than for the great colleagues with whom I work each day. Yet, both groups of people need to be heard.
"The effects of this mandate on our students are great. I watch more and more of them get frustrated as teachers move through areas of curriculum at an amazing pace just so they have covered everything that will be on the high-stakes state test. If we are to make lifelong learners of students, we need to be sure that the material we are covering is understood, so they will be able to recall and apply this knowledge when it is needed later in life.
"The demographics of the school in which I teach create great challenges; the colleagues employed in my district are great in finding ways to meet those challenges and in trying to meet all the demands that NCLB has put on our school.
"Our elementary building is currently in its third year of not making AYP. We have spent the last year doing everything possible to get all of our students up to grade level, and we now have some very good baseline data that shows that our students are demonstrating more than a year's worth of academic growth, but we will get no credit for those gains because the students are still not performing up to grade level.
"In our district, 52 percent of the population are minorities, 68 percent are on free and reduced lunch, 15 percent are special education, and we are a 100 percent Title I school. This year alone, we had more than 300 move- ins and move-outs during the school year. This is more than a 25 percent turnover in our elementary school student population. Even with these staggering statistics, the great teachers who work in our district have shown unbelievable gains with our students, even the students who come into our district in March and speak absolutely no English (many don't even know how to say their own name).
"Over the past school year, more and more of my colleagues, many of whom have been teaching for more than 10 years, have said that their passion for the job is very quickly diminishing. The joy they once had in teaching kids to learn is being taken away by the demands of NCLB. There is no longer any recognition for the gains they make with the students. Not only do these teachers not get the recognition they deserve, but every year, right before school starts, the governor of our wonderful state of Minnesota has a big press conference at our state fair to release the state test results and announce which schools did make AYP—and which schools did not. That is the news that starts off our school year.
"I would never start off a school year by telling my students what failures they were, but our own legislative bodies seem to think that this is okay to do. Most teachers are excited in the fall, getting their classroom ready for the next set of kids to come in the door. They are excited about the possibilities for this new group of young minds, and yet one week before they walk in the door, our test results are announced.
"After three years on the failing list, this announcement has begun to take a toll on those with whom I teach. It's not because they have not put their whole heart into it; it is because they worked so hard the year before, hoping that all their work will take us off the list. Knowing all the changes that have resulted from their work, but not being given credit for all the things that they've done, the attitudes shift. Rather than looking forward to this new group of students, teachers now ask, 'Why am I still here and going through this?' 'Why should I make another change?' 'How will this year be different than last year?' Very quickly the year's focus turns to getting through and surviving the backlash of how we are failing at the great job we do.
"All students deserve to have teachers in front of them each day whose joy and enthusiasm shows in their faces, who love what they are doing, and who know that what they do makes a difference in the life of students, especially those we serve in our district. I consider myself a voice for the students that we, as teachers, work with every day.
"It is time to give all students a great public education, the opportunity to learn without all the federal mandates placed on us by NCLB. As a teacher, I have no problem with being held accountable, but I want to be sure that we are also given credit for the gains we make with each student on a daily basis. In order to fulfill this promise, NCLB must be renamed and redirected with new guidelines and the funding to make it happen.
"These children are our future. It is time to invest in them and those who teach them."
Teacher/CSR Grant Coordinator