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July 09, 2007 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2007-07-09

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Monday, July 9, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Leave NCLB behind

The price of patriotism

W ith regards to my
education, I'm glad
went to elementary
school in the 1990s rather than
the 2000s. Maybe it's because I
was too youngto know the politics
behind educational policy, but my
own schoolgirl experience seems
freer and more stimulating com-
pared to the experience of school-
children today.
When I look back on my elemen-
tary school days, I remember field
trips, class plays and science fairs.
I imagine most college students
nowadays have similar memories,
but I fear that many future college
students will recall a much bleak-
er scenario. This will be a past
stripped of arts and sports pro-
grams, spoon-fed with a narrowed
curriculum and crammed with
constant standardized testing.
No Child Left Behind, President
Bush's educational manifesto, has
unfortunately led to many of these
consequences. However, unlike
some of his other policies, this one
was at least good at heart. It's hard
to criticize the desire to fix fail-
ing schools and close racial and
economic achievement gaps, but
NCLB needs some revamping to
accomplish these lofty goals.
The backbone of NCLB is a series
of standardized tests in reading
and math administered once a year
from third to eighth grade and once
during high school. These tests are
supposed to show which schools
are making "adequate yearly prog-
ress" and which are "failing," yet
the numbers aren't matching up
with reality.
One problem is what's called
the "race to the bottom." Chil-
dren take two sets of tests, a state
test and a national assessment
test. However with the punitive
measures against failing schools,
the states often design easier,
watered-down tests to inflate their
students' scores and keep their
schools afloat. In 2005, Mississip-
pi reported that 89 percent of its
fourth graders were proficient in
reading. Yet, when the same stu-
dents took the national test, only
18 percent of them were deemed
Another problem is that even
when schools are dramatically
improving, if they don't meet the
level of adequate yearly progress
they are still considered failing. A
school could have fourth graders

who started the year reading at a
first grade level and raise them to
a third grade level, but they would
stillbe marked failing because they
didn't make it to a fourth grade
level within the year.
A potential solution to the NCLB
woes could be the growth model,
already in place in a dozen states.
The growth model follows the
progress of individual students
through the years, as opposed to
contrasting one year's class with
the last year's class.
The growth model offers a fairer
way to determine progress. While
schools would still maintain the
goal of getting kids up to grade
level, with growth models they
would not be punished for mak-
ing substantial progress even if
it wasn't quite up to the national
benchmark. It would also give a
go child jef 6 _1
more specific measurement of how
all students, from advanced classes
to special education, are perform-
ing. It would be an accountable yet
flexible tool, offering the carrot
more than the stick.
Is the growth model the per-
fect way to measure progress in
education? I'd say no, but neither
is standardized testing the magi-
cal cure-all of education problems.
Standardized testingis necessaryto
ensure teachers nationwide cover
core principles and to give some
sort of performance gauge, yet mak-
ing progress in education is about
attitude as well as numbers.
We would make a critical move
forward in education if we could
foster and maintain a positive atti-
tude towards learning, which is
usually lostby middle school. If we
could get kids to value their educa-
tion and keep their enthusiasm for
learning, we would probably see
big jumps in test scores.
Too bad you can't take a person's
attitude into account on a multiple-
choice test.
Rachel Wagner can be reached
at rachwag@umich.edu.

Last week, I was lucky enough
to spend my Fourth of July in
the great state of Wyoming.
I have been living here at the
University's Camp Davis for the
past two weeks. For the Fourth,
many students including myself
set out for the nearby town of
Jackson to celebrate and watch
the fireworks. But a seemingly
benign trip led me to a more seri-
ous question: What is the price of
such celebrations of patriotism?
We arrived at the local town
park and selected a spot on the
grassy lawn amidst throngs of
families and children with sticky
ice creamhands. As I watched the
fiery display, I became concerned.
With each burst of color came
a large dark cloud of smoke and
the air became thicker with each
passing moment. Thinking back,
I recall this same effect at all of
my firework experiences, but this
time I had a new perspective.
The smoke from fireworks

consists of fine particles. This is
referred to by environmental-
ists as particulate matter. It has
been suggested that the presence
of PM leads to lower air quality.
According to the Environmental
Protection Agency, these par-
ticles may cause negative short-
and long-term health effects
including respiratory and cardio-
vascular problems. I wondered
if anyone had bothered to point
that out to the families oohing
and aahing next to me.
My concern did not end there.
As those following the news may
know, the West is in the middle
of a drought. After the grand
finale, I could see a number of
small glowing globs on the ridge.
I realized with some anxiety that
these were small fires.
The fires were quickly extin-
guished, but still I had to wonder
why the city would take the risk,
since recently, the area has been
plagued by forest fires.

I'm neither a member of the
medical community nor an envi-
ronmental expert, but it does
seem to me that these things
should be at least topics of
debate. It's dangerous when we
follow these traditions without
taking the time to review them.
I have nothing against the
Fourth of July. In fact, in this
day and age I think it has become
increasingly important to recall
and celebrate our rebellious her-
itage and to remember that, quite
explicitly, dissent is patriotic.
okay, so I stole that from a
bumper sticker, but the point is
that the holiday is meant to cel-
ebrate America's autonomy. But
I'm not sure we need flashy blaz-
ing displays to celebrate, espe-
cially at the potential detriment
to human health and the land.
Kate Truesdell is an LSA
senior and a member of the
Daily's editorial board.

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