ABC and 123: A Learning Collaborative: Viewpoint: Students Deserve an Educational Bill of Rights

Friday, March 30, 2012

Viewpoint: Students Deserve an Educational Bill of Rights

Today we welcome Mark Pullen, a classroom teacher with a unique viewpoint on No Child Left Behind, as our guest blogger.

All students – no matter their race, gender, academic ability, or financial well-being – deserve a free, quality education as a basic human right.  In the United States, federal legislation packages like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, however flawed, have sought to ensure that students are in fact receiving an education by requiring that all students be tested annually in the areas of reading and math.  Schools that repeatedly fail to educate a high enough percentage of their students (or subgroups of students) past certain thresholds in those subjects typically face punitive measures.  This legislation was well-intended but has, in some school districts, led to horrific unintended consequences, most commonly a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum to exclude all but what is tested as schools teach solely to the test.

Primarily as a result of these unintended consequences, many educators believe that No Child Left Behind should be eliminated.  Without mandated annual high-stakes reading and math testing, they argue, schools would be able to be more child-centered and to expand the curriculum to once again focus more heavily on things like science, social studies, and the arts.  This fails to address the initial concern of No Child Left Behind, however – that many students are not currently receiving a quality education in their public school.

I propose an alternative to eliminating No Child Left Behind: adding to it a clearer definition of exactly what it means to be “left behind.”  No longer should multiple-choice tests be the sole determining factor for whether or not a student (or school) has made “adequate yearly progress.”  Instead, we need to devise a Student Bill of Rights, clearly laying out the minimum standards of what we believe all students deserve from the schools they attend.  This Bill of Rights would have the power of law and would operate alongside the current No Child Left Behind legislation.  While No Child Left Behind focuses on assessing student learning, the Bill of Rights that I am proposing would focus on assessing student learning conditions.  It would also serve as a form of checks and balances by denying schools the opportunity to narrow their curriculum and teach to a standardized test.

Let’s imagine how this could look in practice.  Imagine a Bill of Rights with requirements such as these:

1.  All students have the right to attend school in a clean, safe environment.

This may seem like a simple, obvious requirement, but in one sentence it demands that schools take care of everything from leaky ceilings to ongoing bullying issues.

2.  All students have the right to attend schools with significant technology integration in all core subject areas.

Students who are not taught to be digitally literate will be at a huge disadvantage in their future college and career journeys.  Technology integration can no longer be an option for schools.  I personally believe that beginning in third grade (if not sooner), every student deserves to be in a 1:1 environment, where each child has his/her own tech device to be used whenever needed.  My proposed Student Bill of Rights would allow for other forms of tech integration as well, however, such as small groups of students sharing one device.  As with the first statement, however, the inclusion of this in a Student Bill of Rights would immediately shift a school’s focus away from how well kids can fill in bubbles on a test to ensuring that the student learning environment in a school was as conducive to learning as possible.

3.  Elementary students have the right to physical education, art, and music classes at least once per week.  Secondary students have the right to choose at least one elective per year in the area of physical education, art, music, or world languages.

Again, this simple mandate would force schools not to teach solely to the test, and it would renew art, music, and physical education instruction in districts that have eliminated it. 

It’s easy to envision other possible rights which students arguably deserve, such as class size limits, the right for a student to be appropriately challenged in all subjects, the right to daily recess for elementary students, the right for secondary students to be taught by teachers who at least minored in college in the subject they are teaching, and so on.  All of these could be vigorously debated, and many more could be devised as well.  Whatever the outcome, I am convinced that even a very conservatively-written Student Bill of Rights could be effective in turning the public’s attention and dialogue away from our collective obsession with test scores and toward the conditions under which we require students to learn.  Schools should not be penalized for having low test scores when those scores can be a function of poverty, large numbers of ELL students, or high rates of transiency.  Instead, schools should be judged based on the learning environment they offer to the students they serve.  Schools with crumbling walls, few functional computers, and no classes in the arts are the ones who should be penalized.

In the comment section, leave a response to this question: What statements would you include in a Student Bill of Rights? 

About the Author:
Mark Pullen, 1:1 classroom teacher, on behalf of Worth Ave Group. Worth Ave Group provides laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance to schools and universities. They have been insuring schools since 1971:


  1. I appreciate your Student Bill of Rights and think it is long overdue. I would like to see it expanded to include children with disabilities and also to prohibit restraint and seclusion of all students. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. I have to hope that most schools are doing he very best they can with the resources thy have. I believe that any legislation that is imposed on people or schools punishes the majority rather than inspiring the minority. In the end a schools success or failure lies in the hands of the community and parents.