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Volume II, Number 5, May, 2004

In Harm's Way

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Words at the base of the Statue of Liberty welcoming newcomers to our land.

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

Stirring words when honored.

These days they might be revised to match current realities . . .

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses so I can put them to work in the sweat shops and low paying jobs of our nation, paying them under the table and condemning them to a life of bare survival, harsh conditions and homelessness, fueling an economy that serves the rich and the powerful."

Sadly, it is no longer fashionable to speak of social justice in these United States, except when neoconservatives use fancy words to mask the true impact of programs like NCLB that will actually put young people in harm's way.

The so-called "compassionate conservative" would throw children into the turbulent seas of a free market society and claim it was some kind of wondrous baptism. Sink or swim and survival of the fittest are repackaged in New Age buzz terms. Turning a blind eye to the flimflam artists, the diploma mills and the shameless hucksters eager to pick over the carcass of failed public schools, the compassionate conservative promises heaven on earth.

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Cheap Shots

This administration often does the opposite of what it says. And it often does that cheaply.

They call a law opening old growth forests to timbering, "The Healthy Forest Act."

They call a law relaxing air quality standards, the "Clear Skies" Initiative.

They call a law putting children at greater risk of dropping out of school, "No Child Left Behind."

School failure has become national policy.

Dissent is portrayed as terrorism.

And this deceptive practice and short-changing of our young ones even extends to the battlefields in Iraq where we declared victory prematurely but left young Americans unprotected in a hostile land where they die with tragic frequency, in part because they have the wrong equipment for the job. Newsweek documents a shameful lack of appropriate equipment and armor in Iraq in a report issued in the May 3, 2004 Issue at

We have come to a sorry stage in U.S. history when we censor the news - forbidding public disclosure of the photos of the caskets of our young dead soldiers. Our leaders make bold promises to protect our soldiers in Iraq while seriously underfunding the effort so they drive thin-skinned vehicles that put them at severe risk. These same leaders promise reform of education but fail to fund the effort at a level that would build capacity rather than strain the system.

We suffer from severe mismanagement of complex operations as wishful thinking and fantasy often substitute for careful, intelligent planning. Ideology drives decisions so that we end up lurching and stumbling from surprise to surprise and from ambush to ambush.

The Sad Truth

No child left behind? Rarely have words masked truth so eloquently. The architects of this plan created a system in Texas that left nearly a million students behind, manipulating drop out rates and test scores to create the appearance of a miracle that stands up to scrutiny about as well as Enron's accounting methods did. See "A Lost Generation? A Million Left Behind?" at

Regrettably, the dogs of war have displaced the finer instincts and the best traditions of American society as we race about chasing illusions, shadows and fantasies overseas while our own children suffer neglect and abandonment both here and there.

Lost Children

Despite the fine words, thousands of poorly performing, disadvantaged children are shuffled around and shunned as NCLB penalties and labels turn "musical children" into an unhealthy new school game that violates the promises of reform.

In a series of reports on homeless children, NPR found that many schools and districts have failed to welcome and educate such children.

The McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, passed in 1987, has gone largely unenforced. That has left thousands of homeless children attending multiple schools every year as they move from district to district. So the federal government is now telling school districts to adhere to the law or risk losing federal aid.

NPR, April 2, 2004

One organization (EDC - Education Development Center, Inc.) estimates that there are currently one million homeless children in the United States. In "Educating Homeless Children," August 2003 EDC outlines the challenges of meeting the needs of these children.

Who Is Homeless?

According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a homeless person is an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including children and youth:

• Sharing housing due to loss of permanent housing
• Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate housing
• Living in emergency or transitional housing

This includes children and youth who:
• Have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, regular sleeping accommodations
• Live in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations
• Migratory students meeting the descriptions above

Credit: Vermont Homeless Children and Youth Project

In the NPR programs cited above, it is apparent that the current low wage economy thrives on a supply of marginalized workers. The economic trends and patterns of this decade represent a major shift away from social justice, equal opportunity and social mobility, but those trends go virtually unnoticed. The invisible poor are usually located far from the gated communities and well manicured lawns of those who have benefited from tax cuts while deficits have soared.

"In Part One, Sanchez visits Orange County, California, where cheap motels serve as temporary sleeping quarters for thousands of transient families. As they move from place to place, the children must constantly change schools, setting them back ever further in their studies."

"Even though the law compels the schools to take homeless children regardless of their current address, many say they can't because they are too crowded already."

Freezing Funding

We can gauge the sincerity of the President's words by checking his actions.

When the administration freezes the level of funding for the education of homeless children, these actions speak more loudly (and truly) than the fine words and promises. We have lip service rather than commitment. Claims of stewardship are little more than propaganda.

The federal funding for homeless children has been stalled for several years at just $7 million - a mere pittance. A single tank (M1A1 Main Battle Tank) costs $4.3 million or more.

Even as the administration pinches pennies when it comes to education for the poor and armor for the soldiers, we see tax cuts for the wealthy and deficits that surge unconscionably, undermining the prospects for a just society. The gap between rich and poor widens while we sacrifice our young on the altar of expediency.

September 29, 2003

Ranks of the Poor Increase by 3 Million Since 2000

Census data released today show that poverty increased and median household income fell in 2002 for the second consecutive year.  The number of poor people increased by 1.7 million to 34.6 million; the poverty rate rose from 11.7 percent to 12.1 percent; and median household income fell by $500, or 1.1 percent, to $42,409.  There were 3 million more poor people in 2002 than in 2000, the last year before unemployment began to rise.

Putting Young Ones in Harm's Way

This administration puts the young in harm's way.

We see the military effort in Iraq underfunded at the same time that education is short-changed at home. Newsweek documents a shameful lack of appropriate equipment and armor in Iraq in a report issued in the May 3, 2004 issue available at

Regardless of whether one supports the reasons for being in Iraq, one would expect the administration to provide our young troops with body armor, tanks and vehicles that will protect them from roadside bombings and attacks, but once again they substitute rhetoric for action.

There is no excuse for putting the young in harm's way, whether they be the million children of the homeless or the thousands of young men and women who have signed up for military service trusting their government to give them the protection they deserve.

In all too many cases, it is the children of low wage families who suffer in schools and then move on to the military as a way up and out of hardship and poverty. The lack of funding that weakens their schooling follows them into battle as young adults, leaving them without the body armor and armored vehicles they deserve.

Rhetoric means little when bold promises and slogans go unfunded.

To see how this administration is under-serving poor children and how many are being routinely left behind, visit Susan Ohanian's Web site and take her test.

The No Child Left Behind Standardized Test at

© 2004, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed unchanged to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission from the author at .
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.