The Children Left Behind

BY Debbie NathanPublished October 28, 2013 by In These Times


But, as the experiences of Leo, Sonia and Yanderier attest, No Child Left Behind has not helped. Instead, it has done inestimable damage to countless young people nationwide, a disproportionate number of whom are Latino. As a result of testing every child, many low scorers have been kicked out of school.

In New York City, from 2001 to 2004, thousands of struggling students were counseled to leave high school and enroll in adult education and GED classes, so they would not have to take exams whose pass-fail rates figured in the way the New York City educational system was evaluated by the federal government. In Birmingham, Ala., in 2002, school officials admitted they had kicked out 522 students and told them to get GEDs—again, to raise Birmingham’s high-stakes test scores. In Orlando, Fla., over two years, one high school “transferred” 440 academically weak students out of school and into GED programs—and almost all of them simply dropped out. Then there was Houston, where assistant principals and deans worked as “bouncers,” collaring weak students in the halls and ordering them to the office. There, they were kicked out of school and told to find alternative education. The school district did not follow up to see if they’d done so.

In city after city, most of the adversely affected were students of color.

As word spread about NCLB-related misconduct, these young people came to be known as victims of “push-out,” a policy that education-rights activists vigorously denounce. In 27 states, including Texas, students have the right to remain in public school until they turn 21, and banishing them to GED programs is illegal.

Even so, the practice has continued. In El Paso, as recently as three years ago, hundreds of other Latino young people were illegally diverted to GED programs. The crime has been covered by Texas and national media, but reporting has concentrated on the law-breakers, with little attention paid to the damage done to the students who had been pushed out. That’s why I went looking for Yanderier, Sonia and Leo.

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