COMMENTARY: A new school year, a new hope

Parents and their children are filled with hope and high expectations for school success. It's been a difficult year, and many parents have experienced economic hardship. Nevertheless, public schools offer the beacon of hope they have always offered to those who want to be productive in a world in which most of tomorrow's jobs have not been identified today.

The schools are a source of light to new citizens (and those who are aspiring to citizenship) who have always been the backbone of our society, and the schools are critical to those who want to preserve and grow our form of constitutional democracy. The support of powerful public schools is essential to achieving these goals.

Many of my public school friends dislike No child Left Behind (NCLB). They complain of too much testing; they believe that the federal government is too intrusive in directing the curriculum, and some, not all, don't think that all students can meet the highest of standards. When these criticisms are juxtaposed with claims that NCLB has destroyed creativity and innovation in the classroom, it creates a dismal picture of education reform.

I respect my teacher friends; but the fact is they are mostly wrong about NCLB legislation. Yes, it's flawed, and the Bush administration did not have enough sense to make changes early on. It ended up alienating many necessary supporters, and throughout the eight years the administration pushed many unworkable polices to the point of exasperation.

The administration tried to shame educators into making changes, calling schools "failures" if only one or two students in a particular category failed to make progress. As any good teacher will tell you, this is not the way to motivate change.

But NCLB is part of a long period of reform in this country. In the 19th century, reformers introduced compulsory education; in the early 20th century schools we were conducting vocational education classes; in the '50s we had the National Defense and Education Act; and in the '60s the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Civil rights and social justice) was enacted. NCLB is simply a continuation of past reforms.

NCLB changed our conversation about public education. We no longer blame "Johnny" for his failure to read; we make explicit the high standards we expect our children to meet; and schools assume responsibility for helping all children meet those high standards.

We need to make major changes to NCLB - using growth testing rather than exclusive use of standardized, norm-referenced testing. We need more focus and public reporting on student and school progress in meeting high standards and less emphasis on school failures. Strong public schools remain our hope for the future.

• Dr. Eugene T. Paslov, former Nevada superintendent of schools, is a board member for Silver State Charter High School in Carson City.


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