of the points stressed by President Bush in his signing of the
No Child Left Behind Act on January 8th, is that failing schools
must shape up or suffer the consequences. He said:
When we find poor performance, a school will be given time
and incentives and resources to correct their problems. A
school will be given time to try other methodologies, perhaps
other leadership, to make sure that people can succeed. If,
however, schools don't perform, if, however, given the new
resources, they are unable to solve the problem of not
educating their children, there must be real consequences.
The consequences are that parents will be allowed to transfer
their children from failing schools to other public or charter
schools and even apply for tutoring services at government
expense. Meanwhile, those children will have wasted three years
in a school that failed to shape up. Why give a school
"time to try other methodologies" if the present
methodologies aren't working? It isn't as if the failing school
started in business yesterday and has to experiment to find out
what works. Present test scores already identify those schools
that produce failure, and no child should be forced to attend
such a school while it works on revamping its programs. Children
would not be in a school in the process of physical renovation.
The school would be closed until the renovations were completed.
The same should be true for academic "renovations."
Children who fail to learn to read in a failing school should
not be expected to wait for the school to change its teaching
methods before remediation is offered. A six-year-old is in the
first grade for one year and then must move on. By the time he
or she is in the third grade and can't read, that poor child
will be in a miserable position. Meanwhile, the No Child Left
Behind Act can't guarantee that the school will ever learn how
to teach a child to read.
Without doubt, the most important feature of the new reform
act is the six-year, $5 billion Reading First initiative, which
has sent the Whole-Language network into a tizzy. Clearly
crafted by strong advocates of a phonics approach to beginning
reading, Reading First requires schools to adopt
"scientifically based reading instruction" in order to
get some of the federal money. With the ink hardly dry on the
bill, it has already provoked the expected opposition from Whole
Language educators. Gerald Coles, a Whole- Language author, was
quoted in Education Week (2-20-02) as saying: "If you want
to have a form of literacy education that is stepwise,
hierarchical, small-to-large parts, with minimal democratic
participation, that has very strict outcome goals, then you can
use research to facilitate those goals." Of course, he
doesn't explain what's undemocratic about phonics, which teaches
children to become independent readers. You can't get more
democratic than that.
In a letter to Education Week (2-13-02), Ken Goodman, noted
Whole-Language guru, wrote: "Nothing less than an
inquisition is being waged by federal law against teachers and
school administrators to limit their practice to mandated
application of officially sanctioned research findings and
rooting out heretical 'whole language' practice, a term being
used now as a catchall for any unsanctioned activities."
In other words, do not expect Whole-Language educators to
accept the "inquisition" and play dead. They too want
some of the money that Reading First will be handing out for
phonics based reading programs. Whole-Language programs can
easily be disguised to look like "scientifically based
reading instruction." All it takes is a little imagination
and the ability to dissimulate with a straight face.
Why schools fail? Because nothing in the No Child Left Behind
Act will affect the dumbing-down agenda of the educators who
have controlled the system for decades. Even if phonics is
taught in the first grade, its advantages will be lost by the
fourth grade. We know this from the fact that some children who
have been taught to read by phonics at home before attending
school, experience a decline in academics after attending public
school. Thus, don't get your hopes up too high and expect
miracles in a system that keeps the Maker of miracles out.