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UAH teacher aims to end No Child Left Behind

Go to Educator Roundtable and think about attending our first conference. Learn strategies for bringing down NCLB!

Maybe your New Year's resolution list looks a little like mine. Clean out the garage. Walk the dogs more. Lose a little weight, preferably in the area of the fat head.

Or maybe yours is more like the one of Dr. Philip Kovacs, assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Tops on his to-do list this year: Repeal the national No Child Left Behind education law.

So far, I have a handful of people interested in my list. And that's only after I threaten to suspend an allowance. As of Wednesday, Kovacs had 22,000 supporters and counting. Education - always a bigger deal than my garage.

Kovacs is a former high school teacher who left the classroom and earned a doctorate in education. He came to UAH last August from Georgia, and now he's leading a national movement from here in Huntsville.

What's driving him? He says it's our country's increasingly mad obsession with standardized courses and tests. In his Georgia high school district alone, he says, testing took a full three weeks every year.

That's three weeks students weren't reading, thinking or learning. They were regurgitating.

Teachers have no control over the tests - mandated by the bipartisan national law passed five years ago - and increasingly no control over courses, Kovacs says.

"The only people lower on the (education) food chain are students," Kovacs says.

The No Child Left Behind law was designed to fix the achievement gap between good and bad schools. Its emphasis is reading and mathematics, but Kovacs says that's at the expense of geography, history, art, and almost everything else.

"The problem is that for the gifted students, things have been dumbed down," he says. "For the lower end, it's still too much, and the middle is being ignored as they try to bring the bottom up."

Teacher griping about the law on the Internet led to the formation last year of the Education Roundtable, a national educators' group now directed by Kovacs. The group plans its first teacher conference in March.

Right now, their goal is 1 million signatures on the online petition against reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Law. The law is up for reapproval this year, but Kovacs says Congress may punt the vote another year.

"We advocate teacher-led reform," Kovacs says. "Good teachers can do great things with very little, but they need the ability to be flexible to do more, and they need some respect for their profession."

Not everyone agrees the law is a bad thing. It does enforce accountability, and it does set national standards.

But there seems little doubt it is also driving good teachers out of the classroom - not all of them, but more each year - and creating consequences no one expected. An example is the vouchers to allow students in failing schools to attend private, even religious, schools. But can the government require private religious schools to meet certain standards? Even conservatives aren't sure they want to find out.

Kovacs invites people to visit his group's Web site at www.petitiononline.com/1teacher/petition.html.

See what the discussion is about, and remember: The eye of this national hurricane is right here in Huntsville.


— Lee Roop
Huntsville Times


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