Scientists and Engineers for Repeal of No Child Left Behind sign now

"Teachers are more nervous about how students do on tests and spend more time on test related items and less on creative mind expanding activities. They have less time to help develop the total student emotionally, physically, and academically. [The] staff has been less inclined to look at new and different things. I encourage their taking risks but not as many are willing or have the time to try new things at this point."

-- A Minnesota principal, quoted in _No Child Left Behind and the Public Schools_, Scott Abernathy, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

"Here are some of the things kids at Garfield/Franklin elementary in Muscatine, Iowa, no longer do: eagle watch on the Mississippi River, go on field trips to the University of Iowa's Museum of Natural History, and have two daily recesses... creative writing, social studies and computer work have all become occasional indulgences. Now that the standardized fill-in-the-bubble test is the foundation upon which the public schools rest--now that a federal law called No Child Left Behind mandates that kids as young as nine meet benchmarks in reading and math or jeaporzdize their school's reputation--there is little time for anything else."

-- The school's response to the threat of NCLB sanctions, quoted in Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools_, Deborah Meier and George Wood, Beacon Press, 2004

Scientists and Engineers Say:
Repeal the "No Child Left Behind" Law!

Paradoxically, as general unemployment is rising, our economy is having trouble finding enough engineers and computer scientists. Many young people today don't consider these careers because they seem out of reach, because they seem unappealing ("geeky"), or both. Women and minorities are especially disinclined to pursue engineering careers.

Partly, this is a problem for our professions themselves. We must, and in many areas we do, organize outreach efforts to teenagers, through in-school presentations, summer camps, participatory events such as the FIRST robotics competition, and so on.

But one part of the problem, and therefore one part of the solution, is beyond our control and requires government action. Engineering and computer science need creative, visionary, inspired young people. But, in recent years, our public schools are increasingly devoted to producing young people adept at regurgitating the answers they've been taught, on multiple-choice tests that crucially determine the future funding and governance of their school. This shift to "teaching the test" was caused by the "No Child Left Behind" law.

NCLB supporters suggest that opponents of the law are opposed to maintaining quality standards in American education. On the contrary, it is precisely for the sake of educational quality that we urge the repeal of No Child Left Behind. "Educational quality" does not mean teaching our children to remember the facts they've been taught long enough to pass a test. It means developing children's higher-order thinking skills: creativity, critical analysis, and the ability to solve problems of a type they haven't seen before. We need measures of quality that honor teachers' own knowledge of their students, and support teachers' creativity in nurturing children's minds.

NCLB isn't the only problem facing K-12 education, especially in engineering and related subjects. For example, the difference in pay rates between computer programmers and computer programming teachers leaves us with a desperate shortage of teachers skilled in the discipline. Nevertheless, we choose to focus our immediate energy on a problem that is capable of immediate solution: undoing the educational disaster of NCLB.

There have been recent calls, including one by President-Elect Barack Obama, for "reform" of NCLB. We reject this approach; modest changes in details of this law will not help. We need to repeal it completely. The effort to reform the problems of American education can then begin anew, with an approach based on supporting teachers instead of punishing them.

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Alexis BauerBy:
Nature and EnvironmentIn:
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U.S. President and Congress


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