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In Education, One Size Doesn't fit All

Ohanian Comment: Good point here: The kids we're treating so badly in schools, telling them they're not good enough, are the next generation of leaders. The way we treat them will come back to us. It reminds me of the story of the woman stopped by a traffic cop. He didn't give her a ticket for an illegal right-hand turn in Manhattan? Why? She was his first grade teacher. How many kids in first grades across America will be so kindly disposed to teachers of No Child Left Behind classrooms?

The next generation of leaders is enrolled in Alaska schools today.

I firmly believe that our children are Alaska's greatest natural resource and the best investment in our future. But unless we cultivate and care for them now, their prosperous and secure future will not be realized. Giving them the tools to succeed is our charge and our responsibility.

We were making good progress in Alaska. Under the Knowles administration and the Quality Schools Initiative, standards were on the rise along with test scores. There were effective methods of measuring progress at the school and student level. State funding per pupil rose 25 percent and $1 billion was spent to improve our education infrastructure.

The No Child Left Behind legislation is being imposed upon our educational system with a mind-set that one size fits all. What works in New York may not work in Alaska; what works in Syracuse may not work in Barrow. While some recognition seems to be forthcoming, a lot of time has passed in legislative conversation, test development and, most important, in the classroom.

This federal legislation is laudable in theory and it sounds like a great idea. However, without the financial resources to provide for the success of each student, it is nothing more than a theory and a catchy phrase. Alaska schools and Alaska kids need more than a good idea and a slogan.

How can educational success be measured? NCLB relies on a variety of measures relative to student achievement. Yes, qualified teachers and administrators are critical. Yes, test scores provide some indication of knowledge. But it needs to be recognized that educational success takes more than a building and a classroom. If parents aren't involved, if students don't come to school ready to learn, if the environment is not safe and secure, if we don't believe that every child can learn, if the community at large does not promote education and encourage our young people, test scores will never accurately reflect the potential of Alaska's kids.

I was proud of the work that the Knowles administration did to pass the Quality Schools Initiative. Our schools were making great progress because it made sense for Alaska. With the Quality Schools Initiative, progress was being made while due consideration was given to the diversity of our people, our cultures and our geographic challenges. The No Child Left Behind federal legislation has thwarted that progress.

The success of our educational system should be of concern to all citizens. Remember, whether you have children or not, today's students are tomorrow's leaders. They will make the policies and decisions about your future and mine.

Diane Heard is a former member of the state Board of Education & Early Development. She lives in Eagle River.

— Diane Heard
Anchorage Daily News


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