Children and Teachers Left Behind

Blogging While Blue Contributor, Claire McLeveighn

A time to cherish photography

A time to cherish photography

News of 35 indictments in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal has left people shaken throughout the United States, calling into question the reasoning behind our national “No Child Left Behind” policy. I am the daughter of public school educators- a teacher and an administrator- in New York City’s school system. Growing up in such a household, education was the top priority. Homework was to be started immediately upon arriving home from school and completed without television, music, telephone or other distractions. Completed homework was to be reviewed by either mother or father; and any “spare time” after completion of homework during the school week was to be used reading one of many books in our home or studying ahead of assignments in school textbooks. In short, nothing was to subvert earning honors level grades and the completion of a college degree. My parents’ formula worked. My sister and I both graduated from Seven-Sister and Ivy League institutions.  My parents were not wealthy people and both came from far more humble circumstances than their children. Yet high achievement seems to be eluding more and more US students.

We have been hearing for several years that the US is slipping in student competitiveness worldwide. Some of this can be attributed to the decrease in wages and income as more families fall under the federal poverty level.  Some will argue that India and China are producing so many more college graduates than the United States because those countries’ populations vastly surpass ours. However, none can dispute that while these countries and others are investing in education, the US is divesting. While many children in developing countries are attending school seven days per week, our local school districts are closing schools, shortening school years, eliminating teacher training and laying off educators, all in the reward-driven environment created by “No Child Left Behind.”  My father once told me that it is a teacher’s job to teach, and it is a student’s job to learn. What then, are the factors and conditions that allow both teacher and student to do their respective “jobs?” The best-trained, most effective teacher cannot teach a child who comes to school unprepared to learn. If no one at home fosters intellectual curiosity, the home environment is not conducive to learning – adequate and nourishing food, stable family life, structure, loving discipline, security, safety, tools and materials for intellectual development – or the parent or guardian does not value education or is too distracted by basic survival issues to be involved- how can any teacher slay those dragons? A Bronx, New York special education teacher said it this way:

“I can’t stand it that the metrics for evaluating students and schools change every year. I can’t stand it that students who are afraid to walk through the lobbies of their buildings are penalized when they don’t perform as well as kids whose nannies escort them past their uniformed doormen; kids whose only regular food comes from free breakfast and lunch provided at school; kids who watch their dads beat their moms and so don’t understand why it’s not ok to hit another child who doesn’t stand up for herself…”

Assumptions underpinning “No Child Left Behind” implementation – that teachers are the cause of poor performance, that punitive actions and financial rewards will solve student performance challenges – are seriously flawed and are destroying creative and caring teachers, whose lifelong passion is to teach, and rewarding anyone who can present, by seemingly any means, a prescribed numerical outcome. Our policy conversations focus on school safety, standards and teacher performance, but none of these can be honestly addressed outside the larger social context of the community and the home. Nor can they be addressed when as a nation, we spend on education do not invest in education. In a 2012 “Global Search for Education” interview with C.M. Rubin, Andy Hargreaves of Boston College said “All high-performing countries make strong investments in their public systems. Their private systems are small or negligible. Charter schools are not a serious option. A nation’s moral economy invests in education for everyone’s good wherever it can, and makes prudent economies that do not harm the quality of teaching and learning whenever it must.” Until we make the moral and financial commitment to education, our teachers, children, and nation will be left behind.


  1. Very interesting article. Ironically, yesterday I spoke to a retired school teacher from New York and their solution and proactive approach to testing is having monitors come into the schools to monitor and oversee the actual testing. The monitors are paid by the state and ensure nothing close to cheating takes place. Of course, this process takes money. However, surely the state legislature can out back the billions if dollars they have cut from the state education budget would pay for this very important process.

    The retired teacher went on to tell me the culture of cheating is so non-existent because even after monitors were reallocated to other schools and no longer needed in some schools; the school staff was still on alert and too afraid to do anything remotely close to what happened here in Georgia.

    If no statewide process is implemented the practice probably will continue elsewhere just not in metro Atlanta.

  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    The title should be “Children Left Behind by Teachers and Administrators.”
    The teachers and administrators may be able to continue their careers, but the children will probably never recover.
    Some are calling what went on at APS educational genocide, and I would have difficulty disputing that characterization.
    The APS scandal is not an isolated case, as verified by the AJC.
    Look for further cases nationwide, unless politicians and Chamber of Commerce types and public school administrators are able to shove matters under the rug, as they did in APS for over a decade.

  3. Beverly Fraud says:

    “The best-trained, most effective teacher cannot teach a child who comes to school unprepared to learn.”

    Not according to Beverly Hall, Claire. Of course it seems what Beverly Hall did best was threaten administrators and teachers. Yet somehow people still laud her.