On January 21, The U.S. Senate Education Committee conducted a hearing on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, in Washington DC. I was there as a Denver Public Schools parent. Being in Washington was a very powerful experience to me. I had never been in our nation’s capital and to know that I was sitting in a U.S. Senate hearing room, where some of the laws of the most powerful nation of the world are debated, was a moving and deeply meaningful experience for me. I was happy first and foremost to be supporting a law that will continue to help our nation’s less fortunate children—children who will help shape our country’s future. Also representing Denver at the hearing was Superintendent Tom Boasberg, one of five experts testifying before the Senate panel. He presented a series of promising student-achievement trends in our city: increased graduation rates, decreased dropout rates, and more families trusting the city’s public schools with their children’s education. He said “a both/and” strategy has led to those improvements. Both strengthening district-run schools and offering new schools. Both using tests to make sure students are learning the basics and providing arts and other enrichment programs. That’s what I want as a parent: a well-rounded education that includes a tough standardized test every year that tells me how my child is doing. And yet I also believe we need our students to explore problems that have far more complex solutions than a multiple choice test can measure. I’m optimistic that the new online-based PARCC tests that are coming this spring will challenge our students more and will help them develop stronger critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. We shouldn’t keep testing our students as we have been for so many years. We need better tests, and maybe fewer of them. We need higher expectations. And—most important—we need to be sure that our cities and states are accountable for providing good schools to all children. That vital responsibility should not be left up to individual states alone. The federal government should ensure that happens. The outcome of the NCLB reauthorization debate will affect millions of children who attend public schools, especially those from lower income families. A ranking education committee member, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, expressed the feelings of many of us in attendance when she said, in her closing statement: “Fixing No Child Left Behind should not be a partisan issue. It should be one we work hand in hand, not as Democrats or Republicans—but as Americans. This is an issue that isn't about politics—it's about what's best for kids.” As an artist and a father of four, I can attest to the great benefit this law brings to my children and our family as a whole. To know that part of our tax money goes to an education system that monitors the achievement and the progress of our children through testing gives me as a parent the confidence to know that our public school teachers are performing their work well. I hope our lawmakers make the right decision, one that is made with the future of our children as their top priority. And I especially hope they take into account the advancements in technology and rapid global economic changes. We are moving into a new and more challenging era for our society. The demands on our children will only increase in a more globalized economy.
Arturo Garcia, an award-winning author, grew up in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. He migrated to the United States for the first time in 1989. His son attends school in Denver.