“No Child Left Behind” is an admirable goal. The legislation was aimed at making sure every child receives the education they need to be successful.

Because of the different backgrounds and abilities, we all know it requires a lot of time and effort on the part of educators to try to make this happen. Research now shows that the way the legislation was implemented may have helped some students, but wasn’t successful overall. Students have been left behind, but not for lack of teacher effort—teachers spend countless hours and lose sleep trying to find ways to reach students who are struggling.

Recent reports show that students aren’t learning to read. There’s no “one size fits all” in education. The latest teaching methods may have cost a generation the ability to be successful readers.

Phonics has, once again, been determined to be a solid strategy. When something is working for most students, why do school systems drop it and switch to the latest fad? Why don’t they determine why it isn’t working for the few and address their needs?

School leaders, like our children, are impatient and don’t give strategies time enough to prove their effectiveness. They’re under pressure to have immediate results. That may work in business, but not in education. Individualizing instruction for the growing number of students who need extra assistance requires time, money, and support.

Today’s world moves incredibly fast. Education is a process, and it doesn’t happen fast. Some students take much longer to grasp concepts and process information. Kindergarteners now do the work that used to be done in first grade. In 4 x 4 block scheduling, classes are compressed. Teaching and absorbing what is taught must happen at a much faster rate.

This doesn’t work for all children. Algebra classes have been expanded into a year-long class, even expanded into two years, for those who need more time. No matter their career choice, students must be able to read. There are classes for high-school students that teach reading at the second-grade level. These students have struggled for years with poor reading skills. Learning takes a willingness on both sides to be successful, of course, but have we done all that we can for these students before they reach high school?

Recently, I spoke with a parent who is at her wits end. Her child did fairly well in elementary school but she knew he was struggling. She begged for him to be tested but he wasn’t. The support wasn’t there for him in the early years of his education. He has no foundation.

This child is now in middle school, has been tested and needs services. He’s not handling this well. He’s acting out because he’s frustrated beyond belief. He’s embarrassed because he is singled out for assistance. Had he received support in elementary school, been made comfortable, and seen the progress he could make, he would probably be less frustrated and more willing to accept assistance now.

Why wasn’t he identified earlier? I fear this child may be left behind. Hopefully, someone will make a connection with him and he’ll learn to read well enough to function in society.

If the federal government believes a school system identifies “too many” students as needing assistance, they are investigated, penalized and are at risk of losing funding. Undoubtedly, some systems have over-identified and placed students in special needs classes when it wasn’t necessary. However, when students aren’t identified and truly need assistance and we don’t provide it for them, we are doing a huge disservice. We have failed those children.

Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County

School Board member.

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