Our View: Children left behind


The leadership at Alexandria City Public Schools is quick to blame No Child Left Behind for the disproportionate success rates white students enjoy over their black and Hispanic peers. But the achievement gap festered long before former President Bush enacted the federal standards and it will continue to fester, and even grow, unless ACPS and the community are held accountable.

Nationally, blacks and Hispanics are considered minorities. Not in Alexandrias public schools. Whites comprise only about 25 percent of the student population while blacks and Hispanics combine to represent about 64 percent. Yet, according to test scores released by the Virginia Department of Education, the disparity between whites and their black and Hispanic counterparts actually deepened last school year.

School board Chair Sheryl Gorsuch called the gulf a preparation gap because some students are better prepared to learn than others. Its a valid nomenclature; socioeconomic factors like poverty weigh heavily on education, and more than half of Alexandrias public school students qualified for free and reduced lunch last year. Homework is less likely to get done if, while your parent(s) work late to support the family, you have to babysit your little brother. That means no educational reinforcement at home, and standardized tests dont grade on a curve for poverty.

Yes, it is unfair to gauge a school districts worth in federal funds, as NCLB does, with a measuring stick that fails to account for students individual, unique experiences. It is nave to compare a kid who has little to a kid who has it all and then call their teacher a failure when they dont measure up to one another.

But NCLB is a completely legitimate gauge when it comes to the achievement gap because every child takes the same test. Even if the law is ineffective, it has at least highlighted the severity of this stark inequity.

There are innumerable scapegoats to account for why the success of a white minority outperforms the rest of the student population. NCLB should not be one of them. Heres why: According to Superintendent Morton Sherman, who came to the school district with the achievement gap as his top priority, it takes an entire community to educate a child; a trinity of parent, teacher and student must be nurtured. Nothing in the federal law prohibits parental outreach. 

In fact, ACPS published a Parental Involvement Policy in 2007 meant to ensure the participation of parents in regular, two-way, meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities. The language is consistent with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It is not the school systems job to monitor a childs time playing video games at home. But closing the achievement gap begins outside the classroom, and it finishes behind the desk. Dr. Sherman came to Alexandria with a holistic approach to academic success, but lagging test results indicate the ball has been dropped, or perhaps mishandled. 

No Child Left Behind is ineffective on several levels, but it cannot be blamed for embossing a severe problem that has existed for years. The enduring achievement gap will persist if school systems continue to pass the buck.