Jan. 22, 2003
President Bush is celebrating the first anniversary of his No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) Education bill and hopes it will give a
significant boost to his re-election in 2004. Speeches about improving
public schools are always crowd-pleasers because it is common knowledge
that they desperately need major improvement.
The public school establishment, however, is developing acute
paranoia as accountability deadlines in the bill start creeping up on
them. By the end of this month, states must give the U.S. Department
of Education their plans for holding schools accountable and for
reporting progress in student proficiency.
Under NCLB, states are required to test students three times in
reading and math during their K-12 schooling. Beginning in the fall of
2005, states must give reading and mathematics tests to every child
each year in grades 3 through 8.
Schools with scores that don't measure up will get more money, but
their students must be offered the option of transferring to other
schools. If the school is judged to be failing for three years, the
school district must pay for tutors (called supplemental service
providers) chosen by the parents.
NCLB was far and away the most expensive federal education bill
ever passed, but Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) refers to it as a "tin cup"
appropriation and claims public schools cannot overcome their problems
"on the cheap." He would make the same complaint if NCLB doled out
double the money.
Billions of dollars of federal money poured into public schools
over the last 20 years show no correlation to improved performance or
better scores. The government's own evaluations report that Title I,
the mammoth program for disadvantaged children, is a failure.
Congress created a program called E-Rate in 1996. It offers
subsidies of 20 to 90 percent for schools to buy telecommunications
services such as Internet connections and wiring for classrooms.
The E-Rate program is paid for by a tax on everyone's telephone
bill, dubbed the Gore tax. According to a new report by the Center for
Public Integrity based on Federal Communications Commission
investigations, the $2.25 billion program is "honeycombed with fraud
and financial shenanigans."
The current passion for accountability doesn't seem to cover how
money is spent. But quite apart from who may or may not have been
lining his pockets with easy E-Rate money is the question, did it
Did computers improve students' performance or grades? We can't
find any report about that.
England's Department for Education, however, has just completed a
comprehensive study on this very subject and found that equipping
schools with a million computers connected to the Internet has had
little if any impact on education standards. Despite the government
spending more than a billion pounds over the past five years, "no
consistent relationship" was found between computer use and pupil
achievement in any subject at any age in primary or secondary schools.
Technology is wonderful, but it's not the key to remedying the
problems with U.S. public schools or raising students' scores. The
major, crucial, overriding problem with schools is that they fail to
teach children to read in the first grade.
Teaching children to read in the first grade doesn't even appear
on the agenda of education reform! It was not one of the famous
education goals of Goals 2000, and all Republican and Democratic
politicians pontificating about school reform consistently say that
they want children to be able to read by the third grade.
So what are they doing in kindergarten, first and second grades?
Spending their time on sex education or playing with computers?
Teaching children to read is not rocket science and it doesn't require
expensive equipment, materials or professionals; any parent can teach
his child to read with a good $50 phonics system.
Teaching a first-grader to read requires teaching the child the
sounds and syllables of the English language so he can put them
together like building blocks and read multi-syllable words like
hamburger or toothbrush. For decades, schoolchildren have been taught
to guess at the words by looking at the pictures, a fraud called Whole
That's why third graders can't pass reading tests and why students
fall farther behind each year as their schoolbooks contain more and
bigger words. Of all the injustices that have been perpetrated on
minorities, none is as devastating to their chance to live the American
dream as keeping them in failing schools for 12 years without teaching
them to be good readers.
NCLB requires schools to administer reading tests to students in
the third grade. But no real progress will be made in improving scores
until schools teach children to read in the first grade by a
systematic, logical, straightforward phonics system.
Phyllis Schlafly is the author of a phonics system called Turbo
Phyllis Schlafly column 1-22-03