Does No Child Left Behind Make the Grade?

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Humor me and try to answer these questions:

1. The Colombia River was explored by

(a) Lewis and Clark
(b) Coronado and Columbus
(c) Ponce de Leon
(d) Vespucci

2. The capital of Kentucky is

(a) Lexington
(b) Louisville
(c) Frankfort
(d) Knoxville

3. The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution are called the

(a) Declaration of Independence
(b) Mayflower Compact
(c) Bill or Rights
(d) Emancipation Proclamation

4. What is the largest South American Country

(a) Columbia
(b) Brazil
(c) Argentina

Scratching your head for the answers? Not as easy as you think? I’ll clue you in: 1) a 2) c 3) c 4) b

But these questions don’t come from a high level IQ exam, they are basic questions that an average 5th grader should know.

You may also remember, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in 1492.” Back in the day, teachers engrained this saying into our brains. However, Common Core, a group that recently commissioned a survey, discovered that one in four American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey thought that Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.

Common Core describes itself as a new research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in public school. In January, the group called 1,200 17-year olds and conducted a survey by asking 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature that were read aloud to them. The questions were drawn from a test that the federal government administered in 1986.

The group says that President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other core subjects. Since signed into law in 2002, NCLB's supporters say the education law holds states and schools accountable, empowers parents and is helping to close the achievement gap in America's schools.

Supporters believe that NCLB has increased academic achievement of math and reading skills to an all time high. However, some criticize NCLB because many people feel that it may cause states to lower achievement goals and motivate teachers to "teach to the test." Opponents cite several examples to underscore their point: A quarter of the teenagers surveyed couldn’t correctly identify Hitler as Germany’s chancellor in WWII and fewer than half knew when we fought the Civil War. Sadly, these aren’t rare instances of kids forgetting their homework. It’s more the norm and we have to stop the trend. Of course, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure that kids learn how to read and solve math problems but at the same time they must also learn the essentials of literature and history.

And the Bush Administration recently acknowledged that the NCLB is diagnosing too many public schools as failing or failures. The administration has said it will relax some of the legal provisions in some states — but that "tweak" has yet to take place.

So, are we getting an "A" with this education law or an "F"? As a mother of two, I hope that the faculty is more concerned with my kids’ education than a school's own report card. Recent figures suggest that school curriculum has shifted time from teaching about basic fundamental history and literature to focus on preparing students to take standardized tests in math and reading. The problem: while it may increase test scores, our children lose out on a broader education.

Admittedly, I am guilty of forgetting some of the answers to some history and literature questions but I haven’t forgotten the basics and that’s only because my school taught me the fundamentals. But there is a real problem when primary, middle and high schools are only emphasizing reading and math. How will the new generation of students learn about the other core subjects?

My son and daughter need to learn the story of Holden Caulfield and the heroism of Atticus Finch as he battled racism in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. They need to read and appreciate literature, and they need to study and understand the past wars and battles we’ve fought for their freedom. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

We need to quickly determine what “no child left behind” is leaving behind. “I have a dream” that most kids this day in age — including my children, would have a complete education. For once, this is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Congress should correct the legislation’s unintended consequences of reducing the amount of history and literature education in our nation’s schools. Receiving a passing grade is simply not adequate when our children’s educations are at stake — we must strive for the “A+”.


The Common Core Report

Wikipedia: The No Child Left Behind Act

Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions

The Government's NCLB Overview


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.