"No Child Left Behind" is controversial because it pointed out something everyone knows but the people being blamed didn't actually like hearing - education in the US was not all that great at the lower levels.

No Child Left Behind doesn't work as well as we want and never will, as long as the people being blamed are the ones it's supposed to motivate into doing better. At the university level, where America does quite well, it's a different system.

Rather than being forced to go or declared truant, students have to apply for admission and, once in, they have to maintain standards. If anyone is left behind, it's generally considered to be the fault of the student. Except at Norfolk State University, where associate professor of biology Steven Aird is going to be given the axe because he apparently wants people in his classes to know too much.

Dumbing down?

Everyone except me has a horror story about school, I guess. I was on a scholarship but it didn't cover room and board and student loans back then had a cap of $2500 so I worked at night to cover what I needed so my only negative experience was a teacher who insisted on using attendance as a score - I did well on the tests and on the assignments but still got a "D."  I chose to eat rather than punch a clock for the grade.  So that teacher was a heartless idiot who probably had a family that could send her to college and couldn't understand that some of us worked, but everyone has had a tough teacher that they liked nonetheless. 

Steven Aird is, apparently, really tough. Tough as in seven of his classes with 83 to 95 percent of his students getting a 'D' or 'F'. Nonetheless, the departmental tenure review committee recommended him and he was turned down.

The reason? He must not be a good teacher if so many students are flunking. What? Is George Bush running NSU? Not at all. Carol Simpson, provost at Old Dominion University, says it's the teacher's responsibility to make sure the material gets through to students. If that doesn't happen, the teacher belongs somewhere else.

"Not every professor is an expert in the classroom," she said, "although they may be terrific researchers or scholars." But that may not be all, according to other teachers and even students. Once it was decided in the early 1990's that college education was a 'right' and student loan caps were lifted, the price of education has ballooned in a way you expect when the pool of money is virtually unlimited.

Having students with low scores discourages other students from applying. That means less dough.  
At the School of Science and Technology, said Joseph Hall, a chemistry professor and president of the Faculty Senate, "faculty are - I'll use a nice word - encouraged to try and pass 70 percent of their students." If the rate drops below 70 percent, he said, "faculty are called in and asked to explain what they're going to do about it."
NSU has declining enrollment when more students have the money to go than ever before. Lowering the standards is certainly a way to remedy that problem. The real problem, according to Hall, is that many NSU students come out of high school unprepared for college work. Most teachers end up working on creative ways to pad grades while students catch up, which Aird refused to do.

Is this a need for better teachers or is it dumbing down by administrators? I'd be curious to see what people against No Child Left Behind feel about a teacher being blamed for bad students here, since they lay the blame on bad secondary education, the problem No Child Left Behind was created to solve.

In the meantime, here's hoping that someone like Aird who wants to teach gets a chance to do it. Not necessarily at NSU - if they want a school for rich, dumb kids, let them have it - but at a school that recognizes that tough teachers are not always bad ones.