‘No Child’ law undermines public education and must be reformed

When I was 18, I guided four canoe trips into the wilderness of Ontario’s Algonquin Park. I was in charge of several other teenagers for six days, paddling, carrying a canoe and a pack, navigating, choosing the campsite, cooking and first aid, one to two days travel from the nearest adult.

Today, at 61, experienced and competent, I cannot teach full-time with the nearest other adult a few yards away. For eight years, I have been an active volunteer in math at two high schools. At least 20 times, I have taught when a substitute did not know the material.

I want to do more, and there is great need. My father was a public-school teacher, principal and superintendent. I believe in public education; with liberty and national parks, it is one of three gifts America has given the world. If public education fails, and many legislators hope it does, we will destroy the middle class that is America’s strength.

I now have a substitute certificate. But I want to create a statistics course at a high school that needs one. I have a master’s degree in statistics and taught many semesters at New Mexico State, Pima Community College and other venues.

For four years, I graded the free-response portion of the national Advanced Placement Statistics exam; only three of nearly 400 graders were Arizonans. I have created a syllabus, prepared lessons, taught and graded. I’d teach the course for free if necessary, because I can afford to, and high school students should learn basic statistics.

But I can’t, because of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), even as children are being left behind in droves. I encounter them every day I tutor. I don’t see the many others who need help or mentoring and don’t get it, and those who drop out.

With appallingly inadequate funding, many schools nationwide remove problem students, gaming the system to survive. NCLB is like Clear Skies, Healthy Forests and Clean Coal: the intent of each perverted the name. I believe NCLB’s original intent was to close public schools, outsourcing education to for-profit charters.

Public schools need money, volunteers, evening and weekend hours, and an end to promoting those who aren’t ready. Teacher certification should mean demonstrated competence; demonstrated competence should allow certification.

A former neurologist, I saw many who practiced in my field with nowhere near the eight years of post-college training I had. But to teach full-time, I must return to school despite two advanced degrees and teaching experience using both. Where is the America I served as a shipboard Navy physician, the country that found innovative approaches to solve problems?

Public education, an American invention, needs help. The Iraq war was funded by an off-budget emergency authorization. Public education needs an emergency authorization. I don’t want to hear politicians say “children are our future.”

All I ask is to serve young people and America to my fullest potential. And make NCLB a literal reality.

Michael S. Smith has taught statistics, neurology, reading and astronomy. E-mail him at michaelspinnersmith@gmail.com


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