No Silly Ideas Left Behind

January 27, 2005

I’ve always been a skeptic about the No Child Left Behind Act, beginning with the enormous amounts of federal money being poured into education and the national controls that it would lead to, if not to full-blown national standards. Here’s a story that does anything but remove my doubts. The public school district in Lincoln, Rhode Island has decided to cancel its annual spelling bee for grades 4th through 8th. Why? Because spelling bees involve competition and there are few winners, resulting in other students being “left behind,” — as if every student who doesn’t win or place automatically loses academically. And, you see, the students’ self-esteem is also one of the principal focuses and a very limited number of recognized winners can damage the self-esteem of all the rest. Do you realize what destructive tripe this is? What kind of bird-brains do we have running these institutions? How can you possibly expect kids to achieve when their teachers have such wrongheaded ideas? And there’s more…

It’s not just in academics that this ban on competition is pervasive. It also has worked its way into sports, which is why there are no sports teams at the elementary level — according to the report. Read these excerpts from the online report at

The administrators decided to eliminate the spelling bee, because they feel it runs afoul of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards,” Newman said. “It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this.”

The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards — because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.

“It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind,” Newman said.

A spelling bee, she continued, is about “some kids being winners, some kids being losers.”

As a result, the spelling bee “sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement,” Newman said.

Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.

The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.

“You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners,’ she said. “You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go.”

This is also a good example of one of the many problems with the federal government being so heavily involved. Suppose the school administrators are wrong about their interpretation of the federal act? Suppose the parents want to pressure the school to change the policy in any event? Obviously, the local school district loses an enormous amount of autonomy when it is changing a popular, academically healthy event, because it fears that its failure to do so will run it afoul of the long arm of the federal act. We are going in the wrong direction in education. Pretty soon the school choice movement will catch on like fire. Parents cannot put up with this oppressive nonsense indefinitely.