Suzanne Fields

No Child Left Behind legislation has left troublesome, unintended consequences. When the legislation imposed rigid standards, teachers began to "teach to the test" instead of imparting actual knowledge. Secretary Spellings wants to require states to provide more uniform graduation data, but this will require careful monitoring, too. States sometimes inflate graduation rates, so they won't invite sanctions from the federal bureaucrats who dole out the money.

Solutions to the education crisis cannot be determined on a one-size-fits-all basis. We've learned a lot about the different ways different children learn. Older children in kindergarten, for example, generally do better than younger children, so parents have learned to put their kids in schools where the cut-off age puts them in classes with slightly younger classmates. Charter schools offer a choice to parents eager to rescue their children from failing schools and put them in schools emphasizing math, science, arts and languages. Unfortunately, the good charters usually have long waiting lists. The charter movement needs more public support.

Parents who participate in their children's schools, who pay attention to what and how their children perform, are likely to raise achievers. We don't need another study to tell us that. Children who grow up in poor single-parent families, without fathers to help guide them, start out behind the proverbial eight ball. We don't need another study to tell us that, either.

The catechism of liberalism inevitably prescribes more money as the key to changing all this, but the real key is how the money is spent. The public schools in the nation's capital spend about $25,000 per student per year, considerably more than a good private school education. Nevertheless, Washington's schools are among the worst in the country. That's why few congressmen send their kids to public schools. In some years, none do.

Dropping out is a fool's errand, but getting children to stay in school requires encouragement from all of us. "A knowledgeable fool," as Moliere observed, "is a greater fool than an ignorant fool." We've been forewarned.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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