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Spelling bee nixed because it 'leaves child behind'

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 01/28/2005 @ 5:00 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled

A school district in Rhode Island canceled its annual spelling bee this year because administrators decided the crowning of only one winner violates the main principle of the federal No Child Left Behind Act – that all children should succeed.


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Competitor in Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee finals in Washington last June. (Photo: National Spelling Bee)

Linda Newman, assistant superintendent of schools in Lincoln, R.I., said it’s her understanding that President Bush’s education initiative says all children must reach high standards, which conflicts with the spelling bee, the Woonsocket Call of Rhode Island reported.

“It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind,” Newman said of the competition, which culminates with the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. “That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind.”

A spelling bee, she continued, is about “some kids being winners, some kids being losers,” which “sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement.”

The competition pits students in 4th through 8th grade against each other in a district round, with the winner advancing to a state playoff and the chance to move on to the national finals in Washington.

Newman said she and the district’s elementary school principals made a unanimous decision to cancel their local competition shortly after the January 2004 event, agreeing that a spelling bee does not meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards, the Woonsocket paper said.

She argues that professional organizations now encourage elementary school children to participate in activities that avoid winners and losers, which is why sports teams have been eliminated for that age group.

Building self-esteem is the emphasis.

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

Karen Adams, a news anchorwoman for local WPRI-TV, said she will miss covering the event.

Adams told the paper she’s not familiar with the specifics of the No Child Left Behind Act but can’t figure out why it has anything to do with a spelling bee.

“It was just a fun time,” Adams said.

Winning a spelling bee “just meant you were a good speller.”

“It was fun for the kids because it gave them poise and confidence to stand in front of a crowd,” she said.

School Committee Chairman Jeff Weiss told the paper he was unaware the event had been cancelled. But Newman said the cancellation is an administrative decision that does not require committee approval.

Karen Martin, the mother of last year’s winner, Brianna, called the cancellation “strange.”

Her daughter benefited from the experience, she told the Call, overcoming nervousness to advance to the state competition.

“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I thought it was a fun activity.”


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