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Finding education reform to replace fed's NCLB

This summer, our district is seeing a negative campaign that focuses on Rep. John Persell's positions about education. These attacks, largely from organized groups, come down to Rep. Persell's being "against true education reform" and "unfairly siding" with teachers' unions. In fact, Rep. Persell knows what virtually all professional educators know; some politicians who call for "education reform" are using double-talk to make-over the education system to meet their own particular priorities.

Two examples are "Teach for America", and the continuing iron grip of "No Child Left Behind." Teach for America has a nub of promise about it, in that the program aims to get young energetic college graduates into classrooms with at-risk students. The problem is that some politicians have made TFA into a political football. They claim that graduates in English or anthropology who receive the small amount of education training in TFA, should earn "alternative qualifications" to be teachers.

TFA participants are needed in classrooms, but they should work under the supervision of degreed and licensed teachers -- not replace them. The move to have TFA participants replace teachers is a "reform" really intended to discredit the years of education and classroom practice that professional teachers receive and to undermine teachers' unions.

The second example is No Child Left Behind. The forced emphasis on ever-increasing test scores in NCLB puts all but elite schools in a non-ending, unrealistic, high-stress situation. The effect is to reduce the complex job of the classroom teacher to a regimented test-preparer.

A recent Newsweek article finds that for the first time creativity in American youth -- the ability to solve problems intelligently -- is declining. A continuing climate of forced test preparation in our classrooms, rather than education for healthy brain development will do that.

The over-emphasis on testing in NCLB "to close the achievement gap" denies the importance of motivating under-resourced students to want to succeed. In Minnesota, 30 percent-plus of disadvantaged students still do not graduate from high school. Ironically, NCLB has not changed this rate.

The reality is that high school graduation -- and not a school's increasing test scores -- is the primary predictor of any level of job success in today's world. In its present ironclad form, NCLB is actually de-stabilizing Minnesota's education system -- for largely political reasons. Real reform in education is always needed. Politically inspired "reform," like the kind being used against Rep. Persell, has no place.

Dan Gartrell