09/24/11 — Point lost: No Child Left Behind was politics. Reality is much tougher.

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Point lost: No Child Left Behind was politics. Reality is much tougher.

There is a reason why the No Child Left Behind legislation has not been very effective.

In fact, it is just another manifestation of some of the concerns that seem to be building about how Americans function with their governments -- and what role they should have to play in shaping their own destinies.

No Child Left Behind was a political answer to a problem that, at its core, is societal in nature.

The idea was to answer critics who said that some children were being left behind by an educational system that focused on achievers and ignored those who struggled. It was a response to test results that suggested that school districts were actually merely babysitting some students, passing them from grade to grade without any real skills or mastery of the subjects they had studied.

The legislation was meant to appease those who felt that students from the lucky gene pool, who live in middle class neighborhoods and come from wealthier, well-educated households, were passing poorer children by and few educational resources were being expended to help them catch up.

How sad.

There are bad schools in America -- and teachers who could care less if their children pass any test, as long as they continue to bring home a paycheck. There are poorer schools with fewer resources.

All that is true.

But there are other facts, too: Government-imposed mandates that are merely for show, and legislation that is designed to appease a subgroup rather than to improve the system for everyone, are worthless.

To address the problems in education, and in many other areas, there has to be an acknowledgment that there are factors that affect student performance that have nothing to do with books, teachers or classrooms.

We also have to take note of the fact that there are more and more programs that address the needs of struggling students and that there are some who don't even try to reap the benefits. Mandates build bureaucracies, and bureaucracies help no one.

What is missing is the X factor.

The X factor is not based on talent, potential or even on test scores. And, truly, it has little to do with money. It is environment, attitude and support.

It is the difference between a parent who reads to his or her child from a young age and one who won't even take him or her to the library.

It is a parent who knows where his child is and with whom he or she is associating versus one who sets no curfew and pays no attention.

It is the classic battle between a parent who has rules and enforces them, and one who simply makes excuses and abdicates the responsibility of raising his or her child.

It is that old refrain of self-responsibility.

No Child Left Behind had little effect because it had no teeth.

There was no ironclad rule that if you could not read in the third grade, you could not go on to the fourth grade, period. There were no required class sessions for students who were falling behind or changes in the requirements that demand that a student earn a C to play sports -- or that made it impossible to drop out of school until a child was of legal age.

And there was no buy-in for parents either, no demands, no expectations, no responsibility for encouraging learning, demanding attendance, grades and dedication to learning.

No government or school district can force a child to learn -- and no law can make up for factors that create a life for a child that is productive and happy.

We have to teach them that they have to want something for themselves -- and that nothing in life comes easy and that no choice is made without challenges and consequences.

We have to ask them to stand up and be active participants in their own futures.

That is what we need, not more reasons for them to blame someone else, to believe that they cannot succeed or to doubt that they have a talent or that they can create a happy life.

There are stories across generations of people who have overcome circumstance to become successful and happy adults. All of them have one factor in common -- the determination to succeed -- not a piece of legislation from the government paving their way.

No Child Left Behind is a great idea, in theory. But No Child Allowed to Lag Behind or to Stop Believing in Themselves or Their Future would be better.

It is all about hope, hard work and a vision of a better life.

No government can provide that. It comes from within. What we have to figure out how to do is inspire it.

And we do not need government mandates and another education bureaucracy to do that.

Published in Editorials on September 24, 2011 10:54 PM