It was not at all surprising last week when a town hall meeting to discuss the state of public education in the western suburbs quickly turned into a forum for administrators to vent their frustrations with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The act, they said, mandates that they institute programs they can’t afford and forces educators to sacrifice “teachable moments” for a standardized-test-based curriculum. They also left no doubt that they think negligent parenting puts many students at a disadvantage when entering school, a point the administrators emphasized repeatedly

But wasn’t there anything else to talk about? The legislators present, 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis and State Representative Karen Yarbrough, were clearly already opposed to the act and working to fight it. And any parents who took time out of their Tuesday night to attend the meeting clearly were concerned about their kids’ education. It is pretty safe to say there was not a single NCLB supporter or deadbeat parent in the crowd.

The purpose of all the complaining, then, was not to influence opinions but to deflect blame. Perhaps NCLB is not helping the schools, but are the schools helping themselves? Raising test scores and narrowing the achievement gap should have been a goal with or without the act. So why isn’t it happening?

Forest Park Superintendent Randy Tinder’s stance on NCLB is certainly admirable for its passion and positive intentions, and when Tinder says that “we’re doing the best we can with the resources we have,” he is certainly sincere.

But what’s true of Forest Park District 91 is not true everywhere, and the good guys in public education cannot afford to cover up for the corruption and mismanagement that drags the system down in so many local schools.

The Bush administration would not have been able to sell its education policies to voters if parents nationwide were not already fed up with incompetence and abuse by administrators and elected board members. Though the desire to present a united front is understandable, school leaders must be just as willing to take on abuses next door as they are to speak up against federal mismanagement.

The parents and community members who attended the meeting did not seem particularly moved by all the NCLB talk. One challenged administrators to state their own goals and plans for improvement in their schools. Only one administrator, Cynthia Broughton of District 89, had an answer.

Another parent challenged educators to find ways to incorporate the arts into their classes in order to get the attention of kids who aren’t particularly fascinated by their math books. The crowd was a bit more interested in the parent participation talk, with one audience member urging Yarbrough to write a bill mandating that parents participate in local schools.

Still, it was rather discouraging, and seemed a bit arrogant, that three hours intended for a public discussion by school administrators on what they need to do to improve public education ended up being thrown back in parents’ faces as a harangue on what they’re doing wrong.

If local administrators do not want to rely on the federal government for standards and policies, it’s time they start coming up with some of their own. If they already have, they missed a golden opportunity to share them with the public last week.