• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Kids Need The Basics In Education."

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Kids Need The Basics In Education.

April, 2002

By William L. Bainbridge

Someone who has spent most of his professional life evaluating elementary and secondary schools should be overjoyed about the new Federal education law. However, given a few weeks to think about the "No Child Left Behind" initiative, it seems wise to be concerned about what the national legislation lacks.

Yes, the law focuses on school accountability, higher standards for students and some of the very measurements educational evaluators advocate from coast to coast. But measurement alone will not bridge the learning gap that exists between children from homes of various socio-economic levels.

Mandating standards and tests in and of itself cannot erase the fact that children from homes where parents have little education and minimal resources have many strikes against them. Some of the evidence:

  • The "digital divide" gets larger each day. Children in homes with computers have huge advantages over those without such technology.

  • While neurologists have proven that high-protein diets are necessary for brain growth and development of young children, the economically disadvantaged continue to be plagued with high carbohydrate diets, even in "Head-Start" and public school food service programs.

  • More time on task helps advance learning, but the few efforts to increase the school year have mainly focused on poorly structured remedial summer programs.

    A recent report from the Education Trust makes questionable claims that accountability measures alone can improve learning. The organization's slip-shod research dumps results from programs for gifted and talented students and magnet schools into unscientifically selected cohort groups. The study also includes schools with single year incidences of high scores, which researchers label an "anomaly."

    Well-meaning political leaders on both sides of the aisle, from President George W. Bush to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, supported the legislation. The fact these men are both products of privilege may have something to do with their lack of understanding of the needs of children in poverty. The "No Child Left Behind" legislation regrettably suffers from many pitfalls.

    It is important to consider a basic flaw in the thinking leaders in D.C. That flaw assumes all children can learn at the same level and in the same amount of time.The problem with such an unsubstantiated belief is that it may be used to deny sufficient financial support for those who come to school with environmental disadvantages.

    Certainly, all children can learn, at some level. However, empirical research does not support the assumption that all children can learn the same curriculum, in the same amount of time, and at the same level. Not all children have high-quality nutrition, stimulating homes, and extensive learning opportunities prior to entering school.

    Research in cognitive brain development shows that environment matters greatly in brain development. The period of early childhood is critical , and those who have high-protein diets and lots of sensory stimulation tend to have more synaptic connections. Brains that do not receive enough protein and stimulation lose connections, and some potential neural pathways shut down. This research clearly concludes that children who are disadvantaged have difficulty with cognitive development, acquiring adequate vocabulary and learning the sounds required for learning to read.

    These facts help to explain what educators have long observed: children from impoverished environments generally achieve at lower levels than children from more enriching environments.

    This concrete evidence should be enough to convince us we should concentrate on improving the lives of children before they come to school.

    We live in a country where 10.5 million children have no health insurance. Most of them live in poverty. The child poverty rate in the United States is the highest among the so-called developed nations. Millions of our children attend "holding tank" childcare centers that stifle creativity and hinder appropriate development.

    It is not enough to simply proclaim that "no child will be left behind" without enacting proper public policy to provide economic opportunity for families, healthcare for all children, and parenting education for young parents.

    Intoning a slogan like, "No child left behind," never taught a child to read or compute. We need to do what we know must be done in terms of providing sufficient resources to educate all of our children successfully.

    The time has come for public policy leaders to abandon catchy slogans like "no child will be left behind," and stress the facts instead of the fallacy that have hurt so many of our children, parents, teachers and schools.

    We as a society must summon the courage to provide all children with basic human needs. Then, perhaps, all children can learn at higher levels and the gap between low-income and more privileged children can really be narrowed.

    is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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