No Child Left Behind [Documentary Film]

Uploaded by BoondoggleFilms on 06.04.2011

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
I am so nervous because a test
is in three weeks.
When my teacher, Miss
Rubenstein, told my class how
important this test was,
I started to sweat.
I feel like a marshmallow
on a stick, getting put
in a fire, never even
getting out of the fire,
waiting to be eaten.
So I melt, nice and slow...
Nervous alert.
Nervous alert.
Oh, no, I think I'm gonna--
Oh, no, I exploded.
Now I'm melting
into a gigantic puddle.
All that's left of me are...
I just can't handle it.
I just can't.
Oh my, I'm so embarrassed.
I just am.
I really hope
I pass third grade...
I have the whole world
on my shoulders.
This goes on my report card,
then my college education,
and that gets me a good job.
Somebody help.
I wonder what my score
is going to be?
Where is my paper?
Where is my number two pencil?
Because I can't read
that well, and I'm scared that I
won't understand the answers.
My hands were sweaty.
I almost started crying,
and I had a funny feeling
in my stomach.
I hope I never feel that way
again, especially by some test
I can't show the amazing work
I did all year.
Why judge them only on
one test?
Why not homework?
How about how neat they write,
how much they improved
throughout the year?
This test doesn't tell
and show the work you can
do best, like writing,
my favorite.
Every day I grow stronger,
but do you see that?
No, because...
I love school, and I feel
that we should not have to
be nervous this young.
Please help us third graders
with this situation.
[soft piano music]
ť ť
Wilson: Oddly enough,
this story begins between
Manhattan and Queens.
For the past nine months now,
I've made this commute
to Roosevelt Island,
home of 10,000 New York City
residents hoping to stray away
from the restlessness the city
is well known for.
I spent these months here,
the island's only public school.
It's here that I've been
reacquainted with
public schools--
this time, however,
rather than as a student,
as a student teacher.
This is also where I've
witnessed a reshaping
of education, one that's
occurring in all public schools,
one that promises to change
the face of education
as we know it,
one that promises no child
be left behind.
But are they?
Why is it--
Why did we need federal
legislation to mandate that kids
be tested, that there be this
compliance with standards?
And I think--
Well, what happened
essentially at the federal
level: they said that all kids--
[phone rings]
That all kids must
meet standards.
That's essentially
what was said.
And the standards will be
defined by the states, and all
kids will be subject to testing
starting in the third grade
and will have to be tested
yearly in order to ensure
that they're getting the type
of education that they are
entitled to, as determined by
their performance on
standardized tests, starting
as early as the third grade.
I had them write about
their feelings about
the upcoming test:
How are you feeling
about the test?
Do you feel prepared?
Why yes? Why not?
I felt awful.
I felt that it seemed as though
I was caught between
a rock and a hard place.
Because no matter how much
I prepared them for this test,
they were so anxious about it.
I was very worried that their
anxiety would override their
being prepared for the test.
woman: I, Michael R.
Bloomberg, do solemnly swear...
I, Michael R. Bloomberg,
do solemnly swear...
That I will support
the Constitution of
the United States...
That I will support
the Constitution of
the United States...
And the constitution
of the state of New York.
We will test our educators.
We will test our students.
The need is real.
The time is now.
Without authority there is
no accountability.
The public, through the mayor,
must control the school system.
[applause and cheers]
Wilson: Within six months,
legislation to rescue the city's
ailing schools was implemented.
Under the new system, the board
of education was completely
dismantled, thus making
the mayor directly responsible
for the schools' achievement
and the schools' held directly
accountable to the mayor.
Meanwhile, in Washington,
something very similar
was happening.
One week after Mayor Bloomberg
was sworn in, President Bush
signed into law the No Child
Left Behind Act, which, among
other things, made schools
accountable to the federal
government in exchange
for federal dollars.
The first day he was in
office, the day after he was out
all night, dancing at
the inaugural balls in 2001,
there was a reading conference
at the White House.
And out of that reading
conference came the Reading
First portion of the No Child
Left Behind, which put
$6 billion into federal grants
for reading instruction
to school districts
around the country.
Wilson: The Bush
administration offered
the Department of Education
unprecedented levels
of funding, far outspending any
prior administration in order to
support this massive overhaul
of public education.
However, many critics argue
it's still not enough,
the foremost of which being
the National Education
This so-called No Child Left
Behind is a reform piece,
offering reforms for education.
There's nothing wrong with that.
But if, in fact, you think
that you are ever going to have
reform without resources,
it's not going to happen.
And so when you have
the so-called No Child Left
Behind law and you want every
state to implement it,
you have to make sure
that the money is there
in order for them to do it.
Now, you will find--
and this is, again, where
the administration will have
some tension with us--
rather than argue whether or not
what I'm saying is true
as opposed to what they're
saying, I go to a state.
The state of Ohio, about a month
ago, they did their own study.
And through their own study
it was determined that if, in
fact, No Child Left Behind was
going to be implemented to its
entirety in the state of Ohio,
the state would have to pay
an additional--or come up with--
an additional $1.4 billion.
Well, if you think about
what do special interest groups
want from the federal
government, they want
more money.
I mean, it's sort of
what they do.
Lobbyists come to Washington
to get more money for a variety
of programs, whether we're
talking agriculture, defense,
environment, education.
That's what they do.
They demand more money.
So I don't think,
no matter how well you fund
or how much you fund any
particular program, you will
never hear a lobbyist for any
special interest come and say,
"Well, we've got enough money."
It just doesn't happen.
Wilson: One of the other
major criticisms of No Child
Left Behind deals with
the implications of using
a standardized test as means
of assessing achievement.
And that is where we left off
on Roosevelt Island.
I mean, of course they need
calculation skills, and they
need to know reading
comprehension skills, but we
don't fill out bubbled tests
or assignments, or we don't even
think in bubbled ways.
So the emperor came to inspect
his Great Wall, and he was...
Engrossed with it.
Who would like to act like
the emperor and show
his reaction?
I need someone to be
very dramatic.
[children talking indistinctly]
Mohammed, up.
Oh, yeah! I like Mohammed.
Let's be a good audience.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
Finally, after ten years
of work--
Oh, my god, let me do one!
ť Hallelujah. ť
If you come into class,
we don't even have those--
I don't even give that out
as assignments, to read
something and to bubble in
the correct answer.
It's more: reading a paragraph
and dissecting it and analyzing
it and then discussing it with
each other when they, you know,
turn and--pair and share
and turn and talk.
The last lines I read:
What will become of us?
How shall we save ourselves?
Turn to your partner.
How could we possibly save them?
[children talking at once]
Good job.
I loved how Bobbi
immediately saw and turned
her eyes towards me.
Thank you.
It's so much more than
just reading something
and being able to identify
the right answer.
The skills that they learn
in third grade, or it should be
in any grade, are skills that
you take with you throughout
time and that they're not
really different skills,
but they become more advanced
and more sophisticated.
College admissions don't even
use one form of assessment.
So why are we just using,
with our youth, one variable?
I mean, it just doesn't seem--
not even appropriate for age,
but if we're going to apply
something, apply it
on the whole.
It's demanding an enormous
culture shift in our schools
and a big change in the way
schools do business.
You know, previously it was okay
for kids to fail, even high
percentages of kids to fail.
And this is saying that's not
okay anymore, that schools have
an obligation to get all kids
to high levels of achievement.
I see enormous problems in
the public school system.
And the biggest problem is that
there's no competition.
It's a monopoly, and parents
don't have enough choice.
We are floundering.
40% of our kids are not reading
at grade level at third
and fourth grade, so that's
a recipe for failure.
There's very little you can do
with a child who can't read
at fourth grade.
How do you get a system
to change?
The mayor and the chancellor sit
down and say, "We have
a commitment to education in
this city.
We want to ensure that all kids
in this city have access to
a sound basic education."
So I think what they did is,
they sat down, and they said,
"We're going right down to
the infrastructure.
We're going right down
to the grass roots.
We're going right down to
the level at which policy
is created and implemented
and at the classroom level,
mandating curriculum."
[pensive music]
ť ť
Wilson: I wanted to see
if this new legislation was
affecting other parts of
the country in the same manner
as it is here in the city.
So I went, of all places,
This is where I spent
the first six years of my
public education.
After I retired I got
a letter from the company
hired to correct the new
Michigan assessment test.
And the law said that they had
to hire teachers or retired
teachers to correct the tests.
During the lunch hours sometimes
or they would stop just for
a break from the routine,
and they'd pull out a test--
answer--essay to read to us
just because of its uniqueness.
And one day they pulled one out,
and it was one of the most
creative pieces of writing I
have seen anywhere in my life.
And yet this student failed
the test because he didn't have
the four elements.
He just went off and wrote
his essay.
And I'm thinking,
"This kid is going to be
a great writer someday."
You could just sense it
and see it in the way he
expressed himself.
And you wondered about some of
the ones that did pass the test.
So I don't know the value
of the way they were--
the criteria they were using
to evaluate the tests.
The state's data is
incomplete, and it's inaccurate.
And consequently, schools were
being graded on data
that was faulty.
And of course we were all
concerned about that.
You're going to place
a judgment on a school,
on a school district,
that's going to be printed
in the papers.
It's going to be very public.
And yet it's based on
inaccurate information.
Who wants that?
To put it at its most
charitable: a quality of
arbitrariness and lack of
thorough thinking in the law.
The president visited a school
in Southfield sometime in
the last two years, declared it
to be an excellent school.
And within the last year or so,
it's been declared to be not
making adequate yearly progress
under the provisions
of No Child Left Behind.
The school has not
changed radically.
It has certainly not changed
180 degrees in that period
of time.
Okay, first thing we have to
do is, we have to talk about
some strategies that we've
talked about all year long,
strategies that you need to be
able to decode a word...
It seems like my entire inner
being is focused on how I can
teach children.
Putting a mandate out that says,
"You're going to produce
children who are
exactly the same quality,"
is very unfair.
It's unfair to the people who
are trying to help children,
and it's unfair to the children.
Turn to page 230, and see if you
can find the word on there
that means, "when animals move
from one place to another."
Did you find the word?
What is it?
And you even
said it right too...
Sometimes it seems like
the people who are making
the decisions are not
the people who are closest
to the children.
My superiors will say--
not just to me but has said
to everyone--"You need to have
your children at grade level
by the end of the year."
But it's very interesting:
When teachers say, "Well,
here's what we need.
We need smaller class sizes,
or we need appropriate
materials," they say, "Well,
we don't have enough money
for that."
So it seems like the focus
is on, "Well, the teacher must
not be doing it correctly
if the child is not
at the grade level."
And I just don't buy that.
Today you don't have
a lot of leeway.
The state controls
the curriculum.
The state controls
the funding for schools.
You get a per-pupil allocation.
It's not like it was 25 years
ago, where there was much more
local control of education.
There will be less and less
local discretion over
the content of what goes on in
the classroom, less and less
local discretion over
the curriculum.
And more and more classroom time
will be devoted to preparing
kids to pass the standardized
tests by which adequate yearly
progress is measured.
In, oh, about two weeks,
I told you that you are going to
be taking a test.
And we need to practice
for that test.
I don't want you to be nervous
about the test, because the test
does two things.
It tells me what I need to do
to teach--to make sure that I'm
teaching you all the things that
you're supposed to be learning.
And--that's one thing.
And it tells me what I need
to work on as a whole group,
Now, the test--the paper--
you're going to get right now
is just practice, and that's
all it is.
So we're going to talk about
how to fill the paper out,
and we're going to talk about
how to find the answers.
I believe that a standardized
test is one tool that a teacher
uses to assess students.
But it is certainly not the only
tool, by any means.
There are some kids who work
very slowly and carefully.
And it's not that they're not
intelligent, and it's not that
they can't do it; it's just that
they're very meticulous about
their reading
and their thinking.
So they don't finish the test,
and they get a lower score.
And so that's why it can only
be one tool.
It can't be the measurement.
"This is the measurement
to determine if your children
are on grade level."
Absolutely, positively not.
When this test is scored
by the machine, you have three
choices, right?
And you can--
This is what you need to know.
You can only choose one choice.
Guess what happens...
There are parents who say to
us, "You're not testing
my child.
You're not putting my child
through all those--that battery
of tests."
Well, under this system,
if you have people who object
to taking it, the school has
no recourse, but you are held
accountable for something
that you can't control.
Once again, it puts the schools
in a terrible position.
Look at this one.
What if I filled it in
like this?
I want to tell you
what's going to happen
if I go:
The machine doesn't read it.
A human being doesn't look at
these; a machine looks at them.
So you have to make sure that
you fill in the space the way
it's supposed to be filled in...
We don't all grow at the same
rate, and we have strengths
and weaknesses.
And those strengths
and weaknesses
don't make us failures.
If I'm weak in an area,
it doesn't mean that
I'm a failure.
I haven't met a teacher who
didn't want every child in their
classroom to succeed
at the level that they're at
and to achieve.
I haven't met any
of those teachers.
Those are the issues that are
being placed and put on
teachers, that, "You're just not
trying hard enough.
If you were just trying
a little bit harder,
Mrs. Prince, that maybe your
students would all be
at grade level."
Well, I'm trying as hard
as I can.
These children that come
from affluent areas travel,
and they have experiences.
They have an environment that,
you're going to learn.
You've got every opportunity
to learn.
Somehow we have to give that
same opportunity to rural areas
and inner city schools
and places that don't have
those opportunities and never
will unless the government
steps in.
I look at students in areas
where there's poverty and where
there's deprivation and so on.
And I know from statistics,
there's going to be a certain
amount of geniuses in there,
a certain amount of qualified
people that can do great things.
And we're wasting that.
And God knows we need
good minds.
Wilson: When I was in
the sixth grade, my family
and I moved about three miles
to the north, this place being
the Birmingham School District.
I spent the next three years
of my public education here,
Berkshire Middle School.
Slow down, please.
Slow down, Darius.
[children speaking indistinctly]
[soft electronic bell ringing]
I would predict that many
parents are pleased that schools
are going to be held
accountable for success.
In our district,
our students have always been
very successful.
And I know in our school
systems, we're cutting teachers.
We're cutting programs because
of budget crunches.
But yet we are expected to spend
all this money to test children.
The amount of money that
the state--or actually,
the federal government--
has made available for this
is not going to cover
the cost of implementation
and also certification.
And again, I don't think it is
as much of a problem for us
as a district because we're
very fortunate to have
resources, although they
continue to dwindle.
But I think the urban
and the rural areas will
definitely experience
more difficulty.
With all the cuts we're going
to have to have this year--
we're having $4 million cuts,
next year another $4 million
if not $7 million--I mean,
it's very, very scary
what's going on.
We've had a fine district.
So we have programs that far
exceed a normal, average
school district.
Well, now, parents are still
expecting that.
Well, the funding's not coming
from the state anymore.
So we're going to have to back
off on those.
And that's when,
all of a sudden, everybody's
getting nervous.
But we already are at such
a high level.
You know, so...
"I know it's kind of hard
to believe, but it really
did happen; I swear.
It all started when I got..."
In a school district such
as Birmingham, which is
a nationally ranked school
district, to get any kind
of a F, failing grade,
all parents--
I mean, parents who don't even
understand No Child Left Behind
all of a sudden panic.
It is not a true reflection of
our schools,
our school district.
And it's credibility--
as a parent is--I don't view it
as credible at all.
So our two high schools,
which are two of the top
performing high schools in
the entire state,
were deemed to not have made
adequate yearly progress
last year because they tested
less than 95% of the students,
although they had over 90%
of students proficient in
reading and math, yet...
So that's a problem for us,
to have two of our high schools
identified as not having
adequate yearly progress,
even though students at those
two high schools do extremely
well compared to
the rest of the state
and the United States.
If we don't show academic
yearly progress, which could be,
again, in the 90 percentiles,
high-80 percentiles, and we
don't show that over the five
years, and they can come in
and take over our district,
something's wrong.
That's scary, as a parent,
to think that that could happen.
Okay, what did we learn
so far?
What did we learn, Alanna?
There's going to be two
people: Nani and Nemma.
Okay, what do we know?
What's happened to Nani?
Um, Nani has...
So we are really restricted
or dictated to as to what you
teach at what grade level.
I think some teachers are
feeling kind of like
the big brother notion, that we
are being told this is what
we have to do.
Other teachers are relieved
that there is such a specific
curriculum, because now they
feel somebody's thought about
the scope and sequence,
and they are now being told this
is exactly what they are
expected to do.
Okay, as a result of
No Child Left Behind
and the grade-level testing
in grades three through eight
in reading and math, the state
has written the Grade Level
Content Expectations.
For example, the class we just
saw: by the end of sixth grade,
students will "describe how
characters--recognize for
quality and literary merit,
form opinions about one another
and ways they can be fair
and unfair."
They'll "analyze the elements
of a narrative genre."
They'll "analyze the role of
dialog, plot, characters,
themes, major and minor
characters, and climax."
And so by the end of sixth
grade, these are some of
the reading characteristics
we--or reading things--we want
the students to be able to do
when they leave us.
There are so many criteria
to this No Child Left Behind.
Like, even in the paper today,
they were talking about how
there's 37 criteria
a school has to meet.
And let's say Birmingham met 36
of them and didn't meet
the 37th.
They will have a failing grade.
A school that meets 0 out of 37
gets a failing grade.
We are, at that point, viewed
the same as that school.
So it's just not
realistic benchmarks.
Yes, I do agree, yeah, that
maybe we should be increasing,
but there is a fine line to it.
Increasing from a 92 to a 94?
You're still
a fine example at 92.
So what they are not taking into
account is really the level.
An 18% to a 20%?
That, to me: a little
bit different.
You know, where I came from
a 90 was an A.
I fear that an erosion of
already pretty weak confidence
in public education is going to
be the result, rather than
a strengthening of common
commitment to public schooling.
You know, "no child left
behind," who can not get behind
that slogan?
But I'm not sure that in the end
result, that's what this
legislation is actually doing.
In No Child Left Behind,
from my understanding, from what
I've been told, every graduating
senior, their name and address
is going to be given to
the military for recruitment,
which has never happened before.
They have tied that to
No Child Left Behind,
like on page 22 of the packet on
No Child Left Behind.
The military, what has that got
to do with academic yearly
progress or testing our kids?
I mean, that's scary.
That's what scares me,
the federal government
coming in.
We have, even today,
over 60% of black children
not graduating from high school.
That's a condemnation
of those children to an economic
future which guarantees their
inferior status in this economy.
That's not acceptable
in a program, after we've spent
literally hundreds of billions
of dollars to get those
children just on par
with white counterparts.
Wilson: We've been inside
two different Michigan school
districts so far: Southfield
and Birmingham.
Last year, just under half of
Southfield students passed
the Michigan state assessment,
or MEAP, test.
In Birmingham, however, 80%
of its students passed.
In Southfield the combined
SAT score for high-school
seniors: 914.
In Birmingham: 1191.
The percentage of students
passing advanced placement exams
in Southfield is just over 37%.
In Birmingham: 82%.
Furthermore, Standard & Poor's
referred to Birmingham schools
as "achieving exceptionally
above-average student results
with exceptionally above-average
spending per student."
Southfield, on the other hand,
was merely said to be achieving
"average student results
with exceptionally
above-average spending."
These two districts both lie
within Oakland County, which is
consistently ranked among
the wealthiest counties
in the nation.
Both enjoy similar spending per
student as well as teacher
Nevertheless, there remains
a significant achievement gap
between these two districts
which seem to have everything
in common.
Well, except:
Did I mention 66% of Southfield
students are black?
In Birmingham however, African
Americans only make up 3 1/2%
of the student body.
I caught up with a group
of Southfield parents
at a nearby park.
I think it's getting
a little bit out of hand
because the school
and the teachers are required
to do a lot with
very little resources.
They're being held accountable
for some things maybe should be
occurring at home or outside of
school that they really don't
have control over,
so I don't know how
you really measure that.
Opposite, there you go.
I think parents should
be involved.
I mean, I think that just
should go--
My parents were involved when I
was going to school.
I just think that's a--that
shouldn't be a criteria.
You know, it just should be
something that you do for your
children and their education.
So, no, I don't think that's
a problem.
It could be a lack
of parental involvement,
you know, especially
single-parent homes.
Or you've got two parents that
work, and trying to make
the school piece of it
and the home piece--trying to
balance everything in society,
so it could be.
Wilson: In fact, the number
of single-parent homes with
children in them in Southfield
is not only above the state
average but more than double
that of Birmingham.
My son went to Montessori
school up until he was
in the third grade.
And he hasn't really been
challenged until now.
So he's basically been going
through just on what
he already knew.
And since he's been at Brother
Rice, he's been more challenged.
And the work has been a lot more
beneficial to him.
And we've seen a lot more
improvement in what he's doing.
I haven't lost confidence
in all public schools,
let me say that.
In my public schools,
maybe just a little, yes.
[clears throat]
I moved here from Texas,
and the public schools there,
I thought, were a little bit
more advanced, and the kids,
I think, were challenged
a little bit more.
They are getting the best out
of the students right now,
so I think--
I am, yes.
I don't agree.
I believe that they--
Testing is becoming--
They're giving more information.
It's getting more visible.
However, with no additional
funding, I fail to see what they
are planning to accomplish.
[clears throat]
I don't know when enough--
We could always ask for more,
and we always need more.
Wilson: Right.
If it were about money,
we would have much higher test
scores than we have today.
Because if you look at where
the funding has gone in
the last ten years, Michigan
funding for education has gone
up by over $6 billion.
There's certainly plenty of room
for blame when you're working
under regulations, because you
can say, "Well, that rule messed
thing up for us, or that rule
messed things up."
If you do away with some of that
and just say, "We're going to
hold you accountable based on
how well your kids are
learning," you sort of take away
the comfort blanket, okay?
And you really force schools
to respond.
That's where I'd like us to be.
No Child Left Behind? Sure.
It's a huge regulatory burden,
no question about it.
You think we should make
excuses for poor performance?
I mean, I guess that's
the follow-up question.
Let's have high expectations
for kids and help them
achieve their very best.
I love accountability.
I hold my kids accountable.
I suspect when you have kids,
if you ever do, you'll hold
them accountable.
You don't get to where you want
to be by accident.
And so I think it's appropriate
for us as a state and for
the federal government to say,
"We want kids to learn."
The only way that we have,
that we believe that is
accurate, is to make sure we're
testing kids.
I think the unfortunate thing
is, the results of our testing
have not always been
reported accurately.
And we get into this pattern
of comparing one school
to another school.
I don't know that that's fair.
That was not the intent
of testing.
The testing that is being
advocated is designed simply
to prove to the state
that "child A" received
a year's worth of learning
for a year's worth
of class time.
[church bells ring]
The phrase "no child left
behind" was stolen from
the Children's Defense Fund,
which is an advocacy group for
children that takes quite
a different ideological
and political position
from the Bush administration.
So I have to admit, my very
first reactions were colored by
their lifting of that phrase.
There are lots and lots
of schools that don't
serve kids well.
And the kids that are badly
served are disproportionately
poor kids and kids
of color, but...
No, I don't have confidence
in the good faith of the main
actors behind it.
And I do see it as part
of a move to move
towards privatization.
Pardon me.
If I could just make
the inevitable comment
to anybody who follows this,
but it's, you know, when people
whom we have doubt about give us
the material, we have to use it.
When the secretary of education
calls the NEA a terrorist
organization, it does not
inspire confidence
in his commitment to
public school teachers.
You wouldn't believe
that in 2004 in the United
States of America, you cannot
express a point of view that is
different without being called
names, without being castigated,
without being called
It is absolutely amazing to me
and goes against everything,
everything, that we work with
kids about.
You know, you can never
explain how screwed up
the details of this legislation
are to the American people
and be convincing about it.
It'll sound like we don't want
to improve student achievement
or be held accountable for it.
Wilson: Michael Casserly
is the executive director
of the Council of the Great City
Schools, an organization which
provides a voice in Washington
for 62 of the nation's large
urban school districts.
It's not unusual at all for
urban school districts to have
the federal government in their
business, because the federal
government has been in their
business for a very long time.
The cities see in it
both a promise and a need
to raise academic performance,
particularly with a group of
kids that have sometimes not
been well served by
the public school system.
Wilson: Over the past few
years, achievement amongst
member schools has been
on the rise.
Test results show significant
improvement amongst minorities
as well as rising reading
scores, even as nationwide
scores remain stagnant.
Most principals recognize
that the intent of that is good
and that there are many
provisions there that they
themselves would say
are good ones.
It's the implementation,
the kinds of staffing
and resources that are needed to
carry out some of those
provisions where principals have
felt the lack of support
to accomplish the goals
of the whole
piece of legislation.
Even if we had equitable
funding, it wouldn't be
equitable, because some people
need more resources
to get to a higher level
than other people.
We know that kids come into
school at the age of five
with vastly different capacities
based upon their family income.
Then you've automatically got
a gap built into the school
setting, and the school's
supposed to overcome that gap
without ever, you know, having
the resources to do something
about that.
Wilson: Perhaps this
explains the achievement gap
back in Michigan, where
Southfield kids start school
with family incomes of over
$30,000 less than their
Birmingham counterparts.
Our system is wonderfully
designed to sort people out.
Some people need to work
on the factory floor.
Some people need to be managers.
But if you're saying, "We don't
want to sort people out;
we want everybody to have
the skills of managers,"
then you've got to have
a different system.
If everybody's at a high level
of educational level,
are they really going to be
willing to do that work
if their skills exceed that?
So then you wonder, "How would
our economy work, since
the largest growth area
of jobs in our country
is in service economy?"
Would our economy actually work?
And I'm not talking about
whether it should be that way.
I'm just saying the way it is.
And so you do wonder then
if people are knowledgeable
about that, are they really
sincere in making everybody
at a high level?
You're having to change
the mind-sets of teachers
and principals in schools that,
for years and years and years,
have been allowed to make
excuses for low-income students'
low achievement and minority
students' low achievement
and say, "Well, it's that they
live in violent neighborhoods.
It's that their families
are disorganized.
It is, you know, it is
everything except the school
that is responsible for this
child's low achievement."
And this is saying, "No, schools
have an obligation to help
all kids achieve
at high levels."
When legislators sat down,
they sat down and said,
"You know, we see these
achievement gaps between poor
and wealthier students.
We see achievement gaps between
white and minority students.
We see these achievement gaps,
and we see them over time,
and they're not getting
any better.
We see a little bit of
improvement in the '70s,
but '80s and '90s and today
we see that gap, in fact,
growing in some instances.
So we need to do something that
is more deliberate and more
systematic in closing
that achievement gap."
This idea of teaching
to the test is, you know,
nothing but bad instruction.
You ought not teach to the test.
There was bad instruction before
N.C.L.B., and there is bad
instruction post-N.C.L.B.
This law is, in technical
terms, referred to as, um,
But I think that it came about
from folks who care about doing
the right thing, like being held
accountable for doing our jobs.
The problem is that they don't
really seem to know
what our jobs are...
The federal government is taking
more and more and more liberties
with local control
of public schools.
Things that used to be your
school board, your legislature,
your governor that would set
policy--and they knew
the communities--all of a sudden
are being taken over by
the federal government,
which funds very, very little
of our school programs.
So we get all the mandates,
all the rules and regulations,
the one-size-fits-all
kinds of templates...
We teach good nutrition.
We teach first aid.
We diversify our curriculum
and stretch to meet
the personal, individual needs
of all our students, including
the blind, the hearing impaired,
the emotionally disturbed,
the physically challenged,
the mentally disabled,
the gifted and talented, not to
mention the students who don't
fit into any of those
We make sure they've had their
immunizations, make sure they
understand disease control,
teach them to resist drugs,
alcohol, tobacco, give career
counseling, suicide counseling,
counseling to juvenile
We instill an understanding of
civil rights, the political
process, foster racial
and social tolerance,
an appreciation
of our cultural diversity.
We teach computer skills,
the principles of free
enterprise, and good
telephone manners.
We report child abuse, develop
personal responsibility,
and check for head lice.
We raise money for the homeless,
for kidney transplants, for new
playground equipment.
We practice bicycle safety,
provide bilingual education,
teach metrics, how to be a wise
consumer, exercise, weight
control, how to drive a car,
teach them to revere our
environment, how to manage
their money, how to access
information, how to make wise
choices, how to balance
a checkbook.
We teach loyalty to the ideals
of a democracy, build
patriotism, good oral hygiene,
a sense of respect for the worth
and dignity of every individual.
We nurture curiosity,
a questioning nature,
build self-esteem.
And then we teach reading...
Writing, and arithmetic.
And we take pride!
Thank you.
They want to know that someone
who understands what it's like
in their classroom, in their
life, can go back to Washington,
D.C., and help guide whatever
political forces are out there
that need to understand that.
So it's, I mean, it's
energizing to me.
I was talking to one gentleman
about adequate yearly progress
and A.Y.P.s--you know this.
Can you feel the love
in the room?
And after a very frustrating
interview, I went home,
and I was inspired to write
this song.
ť A bureaucrat came into town. ť
ť And at first we thought ť
ť he jested. ť
ť He said, "When I get through ť
ť with you, folks, ť
ť there'll be no child ť
ť left untested. ť
ť He said... ť
I don't write music.
I make up tacky
teacher novelty songs.
Teachers are so frustrated
with this absurd law
that if you can laugh
and you can kind of poke fun
at it, sometimes that's
just as therapeutic
as ranting and raving
and kicking your feet.
You can sing.
ť Drill your kids ť
ť like little robots, ť
ť even if the young ones cry. ť
ť Perfection or we punish you ť
ť at Stepford Child ť
ť Junior High. ť
ť He said, "North, south, ť
ť east, west, ť
ť we need a simple, ť
ť one-size-fits-all test... ť
I was asked to speak in
Massachusetts recently.
And they said, "You know, we've
got kind of a musical protest,
union-song theme.
And can you think of a song that
would fit No Child Left Behind
that would be appropriate?"
And I said, "I don't know
an appropriate song,
but I bet I could write
an inappropriate song."
ť Well, we listened ť
ť quiet politely ť
ť to the snake oil ť
ť he cried to pass. ť
ť Then we voted all together ť
ť to kick him out upon his ť
ť adequate yearly ť
ť progress formula. ť
ť It's an education rip-off, ť
ť and our kids ť
ť we will not write off. ť
ť Because if we have to test ť
ť their butts off, ť
ť there'll be no ť
ť child's behind left. ť
ť That's right. ť
ť Our kids are counting on us ť
ť like it was life or death. ť
ť If we have to test ť
ť their butts off, ť
ť there'll be no ť
ť child's behind left. ť
ť There'll be no child's ť
ť behind left. ť
That's it.
Look at the billions of
dollars, Title I monies
and other education monies
that have been put forth
to districts and states,
billions, with absolutely
no change in reading capability.
I'll show you some stuff.
If you look at kids, again, from
disadvantage, what you're going
to see in all of the skills
necessary for reading
are very low skills.
So here's average.
And here are the subskills
that all readers require
to be able to read.
These are disadvantaged kids.
Look how far below average
they are.
And this is a very
typical trend.
When we put in place good
instruction, accountable
instruction--this is
a Reading First school--
just in one year, we're getting
up to snuff on almost
the majority of skills
that the kids need
in the highest
disadvantaged schools.
This is what the president sees.
I brief him.
He sees all of the data.
And it's common sense to him.
If you can do it anywhere,
if you can do it in the toughest
places, why can't we help every
kid in the country, even those
kids who have always been
set aside?
I just came back from West
Virginia, one of the poorest
states in the country,
doing extremely well with kids
who are at risk.
Those kids are reaching
benchmarks statewide--
the ones at risk--
in the middle of the year
that last year it took all year
to reach.
Their teachers
are well-prepared.
The accountability is working.
The same is true for Oregon
and Washington, Alabama,
a very poor state, Kansas,
and so forth and so on.
The president feels that it is
critical, that--it sounds like
a cliché--but no child
is left behind.
And the most kids, or the kids
most frequently left behind,
are poor kids.
[melancholy piano music]
ť ť
I worked with a student this
past semester who had a lot of
personal problems.
And she just didn't have any
reason to come to school,
and so she didn't.
In one month, she may have
attended school four times.
And she ran away
from home repeatedly.
And there was no mechanism
at the school to deal with her.
Because the pressures
of the school were all
on improving the test scores
and bringing up the achievement
and the proficiency level for
the school as a whole, that
students like Bonnie were
falling through the cracks.
And when I hear about all
the good that No Child Left
Behind is doing--and I admit
that it has done a great deal
of good--but I always think
about Bonnie.
And I wonder, well, who is going
to save Bonnie?
And how is No Child Left Behind
going to help her?
And for now, I don't think
it will.
It is closing the achievement
gap and raising overall
student achievement.
You know, your having a lot of
people complain about it,
you know, when it's doing what
it was supposed to do,
isn't a balanced picture.
Because it's asking schools
to do something they've
never done before.
And that is, place the same
value on the achievement
of minority students and poor
students that they place on
the education of affluent white
students, and that's hard.
That goes against everything in
our culture and everything in
our history; it's hard.
There is a clash.
There is a tension
in an educational system where
the standardized testing is used
as the criterion, and really
there is no choice but to comply
with that.
So a teacher could say,
"I don't want to do it,"
but then the consequence is
that the kid is not adequately
prepared to take the test.
Parents, I think, have
a different perspective.
I think parents are saying,
"I want the best for my kid."
I think parents have always
said that.
And they trust the schools
to make the decision that's best
for their children.
Wilson: Back on Roosevelt
Island, it's now the last day
of school.
I know she'll never forget
us, because she's always
talking about us.
And she says we're the only
class that she teached that
she had so much fun with us.
Is that what I said?
Did I say that?
Did I really?
Did you not say that?
I don't think I said you were
the only class--
She said that she had a lot
of classes that she really had
fun with.
But I said you guys are very
special to me.
We'll never forget her.
I'll never forget you guys.
Okay, 301 group hug.
kids: Bye.
Wilson: Later that day,
the classroom is now bare,
and emotions are running high.
Soon the room will return
to a stillness
that it hasn't known
for ten months now.
It's not clear how things may or
may not change before students
return, but until perviousness
and discernment and imagination
reigned once again, all that
will remain here is an echo,
an echo of all the time
that's passed.
And until then, silence
will prevail.