Like teachers around the nation, many teachers in Western North Carolina are frustrated with years of unfunded federal mandates that force them to teach to standardized tests and follow rigid curricula.
Last Thursday, a group of 18 teachers and teacher assistants from Macon County traveled to Tuscola High School in Asheville to attend a meeting with U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler (D). All together, more than 75 educators – teachers and administrators – showed up for the meeting to discuss education policy in general and the federal No Child Left Behind Act in particular.
This federal mandate uses standardized tests scores to gauge success in public schools across the country. The goals set forth by NCLB have grown progressively more challenging since the law's original enactment nine years ago, and many regional schools have been unable to meet the benchmarks set forth by the law.
Teachers, administrators and parents across Western North Carolina and the nation have expressed serious concerns about the effectiveness of NCLB for years. During last Thursday's meeting, local educators discussed how the law impacts their classrooms and threatens students' academic success. Many expressed frustration with NCLB's emphasis on standardized testing and lack of funding to properly implement the legislation.
“Our biggest cry has always been we really need the federal money that was promised for this,” says Shelley Marshall, a Macon County teacher who attended the meeting. “We've never gotten the funding, and they keep asking us to do more and more with less and less.”
Marshall, who is also president of the local chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says that the real casualties in the situation are the students who focus on rote memorization and other test-taking strategies at the expense of developing critical thinking and other skills necessary to compete in the modern world.
To avoid sanctions, teachers are pressured to teach to the test, says Marshall. She adds that she has witnessed the impact on her students over the years. “I think it's taken away a lot of their creativity and independence. They look to the teacher for all the answers now instead of trying figure them out and problem solve,” she explained.
The issue is not accountability, Marshall stressed. “I don't even care if you put a camera in my room. Just don't do this to the kids. Let them have the education they deserve and the chance to see what they're good at.”
Marshall said that teachers were glad to have the opportunity to express their concerns to Rep. Shuler. She reported that many educators from different districts spoke during the meeting.
“When you look at everything that has happened with No Child Left Behind, the group that was left out was the students,” said Shuler during a visit to Franklin last Wednesday. “We been trying to talk to the students, whether university students or high school students. We're asking them, ‘How has NCLB impacted you?’”
Shuler says the response has been that students are asking for a well-rounded, more balanced education. “We do have to have benchmarks and goals for out students to obtain, but we can't just
be teaching to a test. Moreover, we can't just put these federal mandates on the local school systems and demand them to do it without giving them the funding for it. Unfunded mandates are unhelpful and inappropriate,” Shuler said.
According to Shuler, President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have pushed for changes to NCLB. “I will continue to work toward reform and keep an open dialogue with all of those affected by this legislation as Congress works to reauthorize NCLB later this year,” he said.