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December 3, 2003, Extra Credit
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December 3, 2003
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 December 2
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Bringing About A "Substantial Improvement In Education"

Writing in the Daily Citizen of Searcy, Ark., Dr. Linda Thornton, a professor in the Harding University College of Education, observes: "The No Child Left Behind law has drawn a lot of undeserved criticism. The law might really help public schools. It has three requirements that might help public education considerably over the next decade. For instance, it requires each state to set minimum standards that every child must achieve. Also, states wanting extra money from the federal government have to promise to spend it on teaching methods proven effective by research. Lastly, states have to make sure every classroom has a highly qualified teacher. Those three provisions could bring about substantial improvement in education." Following are excerpts from Dr. Thornton's column:

On State Standards: "A hundred years ago the minimum standard for sixth-grade reading included reading passages from Shakespeare and Dickens. That was the standard. Many sixth-graders read more advanced material, but all had to meet the basic standard. If we set minimum learning standards for today's students, it does not mean every child should learn the same amount. Children vary in learning ability, but having some kind of required standards would make sure everybody learns the basics, even those who have disabilities or a language barrier. Rocket science is available for anyone who can handle it, but everyone must learn reading, writing and practical mathematics."

On Scientifically Proven Teaching Methods: "Researchers have found some methods to be especially effective in helping children learn, but these methods are not widely used. In the book Research on Educational Innovations by Arthur K. Ellis, these teaching methods are called 'education broccoli' because 'broccoli is good for you, but some people do not like it'. Unfortunately some programs that help children learn a lot are not popular with decision-makers. If schools are encouraged by No Child Left Behind to take a little bite of 'broccoli', they may discover it is not so bad after all."

On Highly Qualified Teachers: "Having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom will bring a big boost to public education. I remember how shocked I was my first year of teaching in 1968 in a rural area of South Florida. Substitute teachers were recruited to teach because no one with a teaching degree was found willing to take many of the available jobs teaching children of migrant agricultural workers. In fact the district was so short of substitute teachers that recruiters would ask people in the community to please take one or two college courses so they could qualify as a substitute teacher. Now using full-time substitutes is a common practice in many schools across the nation, particularly inner-city schools. This practice is not fair to the children who urgently need a well-educated teacher. I hope that No Child Left Behind's requirement for a highly qualified teacher in every classroom will remedy this situation."

The complete archive text of Dr. Thornton's column can be found online for a fee.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 03/12/2007