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'Bush's War on Children'
Posted on Wednesday, December 07 @ 10:05:23 EST

Ed Naha

The day before Thanksgiving, the U.S. government continued its war on American children when Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman threw out a lawsuit filed by the National Education Association and school districts in three states, geared towards blocking Bush's Draconian "No Child Left Behind" debacle.

The NEA, a union with 2.7 million members, filed the suit along with districts in Michigan, Vermont and Texas (oops) as well as 10 NEA chapters in Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah, seeking to define NCLB as a classic Bush bait-and-switch "unfunded mandate." The suit stated that, since the federal government wasn't paying for implementation of the plan, schools weren't required to have to comply with it.

The judge kicked them in the teeth, opining that "Congress has appropriated significant funding" and has the clout to require states to do what they say in exchange for the moolah. (Sort of the educational version of "The Abramoff Principle.")

The fact is: the law is anti-middle class and anti-poor. It also knocks public education on its ass, with Bush seeing education as a way for teaching kids discipline through punishment and fear of failure as opposed to allowing kids to blossom scholastically, artistically and culturally. In short, it reduces children to droning robots parroting facts without understanding them and encourages teachers to just "teach the test."

What Bush knows about "good schooling" is equal to what I know about nuclear physics. I even sucked at biology. The frogs! The frogs!

Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, said his group would appeal.

"Parents in communities where school districts are financially strained were promised that this law would close the achievement gaps," he said. "Instead, their tax dollars are being used to cover unpaid bills sent from Washington for costly regulations that do not help improve education."

The lawsuit alleged that there was a gap between federal funding and the cost of complying with the law. Illinois, for example, will spend $15.4 million annually to meet the law's requirements on curriculum and testing but will receive $13 million a year, the lawsuit said.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings lied, "This is a victory for children and parents all across the country. Chief Judge Friedman's decision validates our partnership with states to close the achievement gap, hold schools accountable and to ensure all students are reading and doing math at grade-level by 2014."

Now, like many of Bush's brainstorms (drizzles, actually), NCLB's test-and-punish approach to education has more holes in it than a slice of Swiss. First, it subtly blames already dumped-on teachers (living the high life on an average of $45 grand a year) for being slackers. (Hey, you got the gig. Time to go on cruise control. Right?) It's also skewed towards kids raised in families with above average incomes.

NCLB requires annual testing of students in third through eighth grades in math and reading, and testing once in high school. Beginning in 2007-08, states will also be required to give tests in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. All told, there will be 17 NCLB tests each year for school districts. This translates into an amazing amount of school time devoted to standardized testing and teaching to those tests. It also creates amazing business opportunities for the companies that produce the tests. (If you add in district- and state-mandated tests on top of NCLB requirements, and the growing number of "practice" tests given to students so they will do well on the "real" tests, the number of tests schools must administer explodes.)

And, as always, there are the personal connections between the Bush Administration and the testing industry. A January 2002 article in The Nation pointed out that the Bush administration has a particularly "cozy relationship" with the testing company run by McGraw-Hill. The heart of this relationship, the article noted, lies in "the three-generation social mingling between the McGraw and Bush families. The McGraws are old Bush friends, dating back to the 1930s."

In fact, on the first day he assumed his job at the White House, Bush invited Harold McGraw III into his office, according to The Nation .

NCLB targets our public school system, with public schools being graded based on their students' performance.

(It also demands that disabled and limited English proficient students ace the standardized tests, setting up the schools and teachers for a big fall. It doesn't provide for individualized approaches needed for these students to succeed. It holds them to the same standards as "regular" students. Oy!)

What happens if a school fails? Since NCLB "demands accountability in exchange for the federal spending now going to K-12 public education," it follows that any school that "fails" its assessment will have its funds cut. But perhaps the worst result is that any curriculum which doesn't produce direct results in the "assessments" (Bushspeak for testing) mandated by NCLB is now seen as non-essential. Already financially strapped schools are cutting spending on arts, music and cultural programs, as well as physical education. They have to focus on the Bush-mandated tests. Period. In short, children are reduced to cogs. Assembly line workers. Hello, Wal-Mart.

Hey! These are just the kind of wall-eyed drones who'd be up for a great gig in the military. (Oh, by the by, the NCLB requires schools to hand over all the names and address of their students to the government for future military recruitment. Sweeeet!)

What happens to students whose schools "fail?" Under NCLB, vouchers would be made available to students who test well but whose schools flunk. But the money for these vouchers comes from the tax money that would have normally gone to the public school system. So the Bush administration is actually channeling federal funds away from public schools and into private schools.

Imagine if kids leave a "failing" school en masse. The schools they transfer to will be overcrowded and, if these schools are public schools, their tests results will fall and, they, too, will be given "failing" grades. If a school continuously fails, it's ripe for a Federal shake-up.

Private schools, anyone? Or how about corporate schools? We've already done that with our prison system.

The vouchers aren't exactly fair, either. Bush's voucher system will punish children from poor families, since federal vouchers won't be enough to cover all of the costs of private schooling, and children from poor families who live in poor neighborhoods are the most likely to go to a school that can't meet their mandated educational needs.

Families whose children are crashing and burning under the new rules are also offered tutoring. But these tutors will, largely, come from companies whose tutors don't even have to qualify as teachers. And, they won't be available in poor and rural naibs.

Surprise! This whole deal punishes poor and working class kids.

When children struggle in school, most often it's not the teacher's fault. It's not the public school system's fault. The real culprits are unemployment and poverty, two words BushCo. consistently ignores. But ordinary folks can't.

According to UNICEF, of the richest 26 nations of the world, the United States is 25th in the percentage of children living in poverty with 21.9%.

In Denmark? 2.4%. France? 7.5%. Friggin' Hungary? 13.3% UNICEF points out that there is a charter about children's rights that 192 of the 194 U.N. members have agreed to -- excepting for Somalia and the USA. (Now, bear in mind, BushCo. is cutting food stamps by $86 a month to reduce the deficit. But...let's pump up Iraq. Helll-oooo?)

The biggest drop-out rate in our nation occurs in our poorest naibs. The biggest health risks? Ditto.

Then, there's crime. When Mom and Dad are working for low wages 24/7, or when a single Mom is out there slaving and forced not to spend much time with her kids? The kids gravitate towards strong parental substitute figures, usually gangers. You can't expect kids with no expectations to have high expectations, which is just the way Bush likes it. A new coolie class is born.

Homegrown statistics are slightly different but equally as grim. The official poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census, last year was 12.7 %, up from 12.5% in '03.

In '04, 37.0 million people were in poverty, up 1.1 million from '03.

Since Bush took office, both the number and the rate have risen for four consecutive years, from 31.6 million and 11.3% to 37.0 million and 12.7 %.

The poverty rate for children under 18 (17.8%) remained higher than that of 18-to-64-year olds (11.3 %) and that of people aged 65 and over (9.8 %).

So, logically, let's cut pre-school funding, school lunch programs, after-school programs. Let's get these kids out on the streets...where they belong.

What is it with the Righty Tighties and the under-privileged? They treat them like a different species. Recently, Bill O'Rielly ranted: "In order to fail in this country, you've gotta be one troubled individual." He also said that those who are a part of this "permanent underclass that does not succeed" are "stupid," "addicted," or have "mental problems."

"All these things," O'Reilly said, "encompass all of our underclass."

It must be nice to watch "The East Side Kids" comedies of the 1940's and view them as docudramas. Those middle-aged kids were spunky, not like those poor whiners of today.

The fact that NCLB is aimed at blowing up our public school system can't be disputed. A comparison of state test results against the latest federal National Assessment of Educational Progress test shows that there are wide discrepancies between the two.

For instance, in Mississippi, 89% of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests. On the federally mandated test? That translated to 18%. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the federal one.

Who came up with the NCLB federal tests? Who knows?

"There's very little oversight of the testing industry," notes Walt Haney, an education professor at Boston College and a senior researcher at its National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy. "In fact, there is more public oversight of the pet industry and the food we feed our dogs than there is for the quality of tests we make our kids take."

The fact is: eventually NCLB will split our kids down the middle, the same way Bush has split the country, between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

It's feudalism, gang.

But, should we be surprised at this war on kids? Look at what's going on. The deficit? It's on our kids' backs. The effects of Iraq? On our kids' backs. The global tensions waiting to explode? Let the kids deal with it in ten or twenty years. The lowered standards in air pollution, the rolling back of environmental laws regarding everything from drilling to off-roading, the Wal-Marting of America, the union-busting, the out-sourcing of jobs? Our kids will have to deal with it all.

Kids are being hit from every angle. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced a CHEERS program, the Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study. They, then, withdrew it, after a public outcry over news that the study had accepted $2.1 million from the American Chemistry Council. While some skeptics treated this program as an urban myth, it comes from the folks who wanted to allow more arsenic in our water.

CHEERS was abberrated even by Bush standards. It was to provide researchers with knowledge about how kids ingest or inhale or absorb pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Sixty children under 13 months of age were to be monitored for two years, and their families asked to keep records of their pesticide and household products use. As little is known about how much kids come into contact with these chemicals, researchers saw this knowledge as useful for characterizing children's exposure in risk assessments.

Low-income families were targeted. Each family who completed the study was to receive $970, a free video camera, T-shirts, calendars, a baby bib (ow!) and a framed certificate of appreciation. ("Thank you and we're sorry for your loss.")

Critics charged that low-income applicants might increase their toxic chemical use in order to be eligible for the study and rewards. While the study did not require participants to increase their chemical use, it did require that chosen applicants show that they regularly used the toxic chemicals under investigation in and around their home.

This year? The EPA is at it again, saying that children who "cannot be reasonably consulted," like the mentally handicapped or orphaned newborns may be tested on should the need arise. With permission from the institution or guardian in charge, the child could be exposed to chemicals for the sake of research.

Parental consent forms wouldn't be necessary for tests on children who have been neglected or abused.

On the plus side, groups like the Organic Consumers' Association are fighting this. On the down side? We don't even know about it. It's never been picked up by the MSM.

Now, what I'm wondering right now? Where are the religious groups - the right-wing groups that fight for the rights of the unborn? Why don't they care about children who are already here and are struggling, being ignored, being discarded and perhaps even being experimented on?

They're nowhere to be found because, let's face it, poverty and discrimination aren't sexy topics.

Welcome to BushWorld.

Welcome to Dystopia.