Real reform, like reading, isn’t so easy |

Real reform, like reading, isn’t so easy

Lorie Smith Schaefer

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, in his letter to the editor (Nevada Appeal Oct. 31), missed the point of my last column (Oct. 22). Actually, he failed a few standards for reading too.

The Nevada standards – even in elementary school – require that readers use prior knowledge to summarize, draw conclusions and to differentiate between fact and opinion. I did not suggest – implicitly or explicitly – that some children should be left behind, only that some will be.

I too believe in the “bright potential of every child” but I know that that potential is different for each of us. Secretary Paige charged me with “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” I charge him with the hard-hearted arrogance of an ideology unencumbered by reality.

I too expect every child to learn to read, but not on the same day or in the same way, and most certainly not on any government-imposed timetable. Each person’s path to literacy is unique. Each has a different starting point with its own detours, speed bumps, potholes, as well as its own particular destination.

“No matter how many fourth-graders pass the test, it won’t raise the minimum wage.” – Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute

No Child Left Behind cannot change the fact that a child has been in six schools before the third grade or was born to a drug-addicted mother or that neither of his parents speak English nor read in any language. The challenges faced by the children of this country are many and cannot be solved by having them take one more standardized test. I stress to my students daily that education is the key to a better life, but they need so much more.

“When our children fail competency tests the schools lose funding. When our missiles fail tests, we increase funding.” – Dennis Kucinich

Secretary Paige cites “unprecedented levels of funding for education.” I challenge him – and anyone else – to call any educator, school board member or school superintendent in the nation to ask if their school budgets are better off now than they were before No Child Left Behind. If there is additional funding, my bet is that it’s gone to testing and not to teaching.

Children do not benefit when support staff and professional development are cut to find money for more tests. Yes, we need to assess progress and inform our instruction, but there is an old adage that goes, “weighing the pig more frequently doesn’t make it grow faster.” No, you need to feed it too.

Secretary Paige also states that settling for less than 100 percent proficiency is a “concession the president and Congress are not willing to make.” News flash: Simply passing a law will not make it so. Just think of underage drinkers and people who don’t obey the speed limit.

“Shame is the greatest weapon for school improvement.” – Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education

Teachers are people of hope and optimism. We believe in what we do, that we make a difference in the lives and literacy of our students every day. Can we do better? Sure. But so can the president. People perform best in an atmosphere of mutual trust, respect and encouragement, not fear and shame. I’m sure the president wants us to respect him for trying his best to do a hard job with the tools and power given him. Teachers expect the same in return.

You see, my high expectations aren’t limited to my students; they extend to my fellow educators, to parents and to the government. I expect mothers to be drug free, at least during pregnancy. I expect all children to have someone who thinks they are terrific and loves them unconditionally. I expect parents to be able to feed and clothe their children. I expect adequate and affordable health care. I expect safe schools where teachers are given the tools, training and support necessary to do their jobs.

For the time being No Child Left Behind is the law and we need to abide by it. Nevertheless, it is a bad law and we must not be silent in our acquiescence. “True reform is never easy,” says Secretary Paige. I agree. I challenge him to reform the way this presidency has viewed education – not as the problem but as part of the solution.

Moreover, with my challenge, I will repeat what I often tell my students: This is important. You can do this. I’m here to help and I’m not giving up.

Lorie Schaefer is a reading specialist at Seeliger School. She encourages you to visit the Web site of writer and veteran educator Susan Ohanian at for more insight into the dark side of NCLB.