No Child Left Out aims to put passion first, tests second

Those of us who are obsessed with the movie Black Hawk Down could not fail to notice a certain key phrase that echoes from the top commanding officers all the way down to the first-class soldiers: “No man is left behind.” As members of an institution that honors comradeship above any other political ideology, every single serviceman believes that everyone else is just as honorable and valuable, regardless of background, leading them to have a faith that is rooted deeply within this motto.

The same idea has been developed within the United States education system through the No Child Left Behind NCLB Act of 2001 and the Race To The Top RTTT contest of 2014. NCLB requires all public schools receiving funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students, after which the funding will be given to those schools who have shown poor results based on the test. RTTT, on the other hand, offers competitive grants to states that are creating the conditions and implementing the plans in four core education reform areas: adopting assessments to prepare students for college and workplace, building data systems that measure student growth, informing teachers and principals on how they can improve instruction, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

Nevertheless, critics of these policies still claim that they have provided little headway in the progress of the U.S. education system. One of those critics is Diane Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She stated the following in a Huffington Post article about the problems created by the programs:

“[NCLB and RTTT have] hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization and doubled down on testing.”

As an alternative, she created a new system of her own. Called No Child Left Out, NCLO, this system begins with discontinuing the use of standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. The tests will be used only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, nor to find winners and losers among children.

New measures will also be used within NCLO, such as: How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument? How many children participated in dramatics? How many children produced documentaries or videos? How many children engaged in science experiments? How many children wrote stories more than five pages long, whether fiction or nonfiction? The main idea on Ravitch’s mind is for future American schools to be places where creativity, self-discipline and inspiration are nurtured, honored and valued.

As someone who has gone through a more rigid education system and now is experiencing a liberal arts system where every student is given the chance to find his or her passions in a certain field and is free to speak his or her mind in the classroom, I believe that No Child Left Out could be the breakthrough that the American school system needs.

In his 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim depicted the grim reality of several lower-middle class parents who have to depend on pure luck to win a lottery number that will put their kids in a good public school, reflecting the failure of the public education system and the unwillingness – or inability – of schools to simply fire bad teachers.

This is a very ironic statement. In the heart of the land where many outsiders have come to find a new future, even many Americans themselves cannot afford to have their children follow a path that will lead to a good future. Ravitch’s idea might seem too simplistic, naïve or even unrealistic due to the complication of its implementation itself. But is it not the time to ask ourselves different questions? The questions usually asked are: “How well did you do on your last test?” or “What is your class rank?” Yet, we should be asking: “What do like to do the most?” and “What is your passion?”

Having been asked these questions by my father in my early days of high school, I can confidently say that my answer to that question led me to follow my own passion, not those of my father or my friends.

So, fellow Oles, what do you love to do the most?

Samuel Pattinasarane ’18 is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in political science and Asian studies.