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Op-ed: Abandon NCLB for student-centered schools model

By Lynn Stoddard

First Published Aug 04 2014 04:03 pm • Last Updated Aug 04 2014 04:03 pm

A few people may be aware of what happens when you put a frog in cool water and gradually raise the temperature until the water is boiling. We are told the frog will not try to jump out until it’s too late.

Boiling a frog is symbolic of something that has happened to our system of public education. It has happened so slowly people don’t realize it may be too late to jump out.

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As a longtime observer of what has been happening to public education in our country, I have noticed a gradual decline ever since the federal government started to dictate so-called "reforms." In 1983 the Department of Education produced the "Nation at Risk" report. Then, in 1989, the first President Bush called a summit to reform public education. He invited governors to bring a business executive to the summit to chart a new path. It was a slap in the face to educators who were not invited to participate.

President Clinton held another summit of governors and business executives in 1996. Then came the second President Bush and the disastrous "No Child Left Behind" law. Now, under President Obama, we have had "Race to the Top" and a Common Core Curriculum.

The result? Student achievement remains flat, bullying, drop-outs and school related suicides have increased, school killings are spreading and teacher morale is at an all time low — all because "reformers" have concentrated on shoring up and repairing our time honored, subject-centered system rather than designing a new, modern system in keeping with great advances in other fields.

What would happen if we were to develop a system that caters to the needs of individual students? Consider what Buckminster Fuller said: "In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete." In other words, nothing will change until we offer something that makes our conventional system obsolete.

A group of educators and parents have been working for over 30 years developing a model, "Educating for Human Greatness," that focuses on the needs and potential of individual students. Teachers who are involved in this approach use two ways to find out what each child needs:

1. They ask parents.

2. They ask the student.

They then tailor instruction and curricula to meet the needs of a great variety of students. Parents are invited to become partners to help each student develop their unique talents, gifts and potential. With this approach, morale is high and students surprise everyone with what they can accomplish.

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In two days, Utah State Board of Education members are scheduled to vote on extending a waiver to be released from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Law. If they vote against renewing the waiver, and also refuse to ever be accountable to NCLB, the board will open the door to a new system of education that makes the old one obsolete, such as "Educating for Human Greatness" and other student-centered models.

There are some who are concerned about loss of funding. The small percentage of the total education budget that would be lost can be made up, and more, if power and authority are restored to parents to be meaningfully involved – as I’ve shown before. This is why you should call your state board member and ask for a vote against renewing the waiver and also refuse to ever be bound by NCLB requirements.

Let’s jump out of federal control now before it’s too late. We can then begin to develop a system that meets the needs of each of our own students.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired Utah educator, has written four books on reform of public education.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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