Guest Column

No Cow Left Behind

by Kenneth A. Remsen

As a principal facing the task of figuring out all the complexities of the No Child Left Behind legislation, I have concluded there is a strong belief that testing students is the answer to bringing about improvements in student performance.

Because testing seems to be a cornerstone to improving performance, I don’t understand why this principle isn’t applied to other businesses that are not performing up to expectations. Owing to my residence in northwestern Vermont, I have been growing concerned about the problem of falling milk prices and wondering why testing cows wouldn’t be effective in bringing up prices since testing students is going to bring up test scores.

The federal government should mandate testing all cows every year starting at age 2. Now I know it will take time out of the farmers’ necessary work to do this testing every year and that it may be necessary to spend inordinate amounts of money on the testing equipment but that should not detract us from what must be done.

I’m sure there are plenty of statistics to show what good milk-producing performance looks like and the characteristics of cows who achieve this level of performance. It should, therefore, be easy to figure out the characteristics necessary to meet this standard.

Through our testing, we will begin to find out which cows now meet or exceed the standard, which almost meet the standard and which show little evidence of achievement. Points will be assigned in each category and it will be necessary to achieve a certain average score. If this score is not achieved, the Department of Agriculture will send in experts to give farmers the advice they need to improve. If improvements do not occur over a couple of years, the state will take over your farm or even force you to sell to someone promising better performance.

Now I’m sure farms have a mix of cows in the barn, but it is important to remember that every cow can meet the standard. There should be no exceptions and no excuses. I don’t want to hear about the cows that just came to the barn from the farm down the road that didn’t provide the proper nutrition or a proper living environment. All cows need to meet the standard.

Another key factor will be the placement of a highly qualified farmer in each barn. I know many have been farming for many years, but it will be necessary for all farmers to become certified. This will mean some more paperwork and testing of their knowledge of cows but in the end this will lead to the benefit of all.

It also will be necessary to allow barn choice for the cows. If cows are not meeting the standard in certain farms they will be allowed to go to the barn of their choice. Transportation may become an issue, but it is critical that cows be allowed to leave their low-performing barns. This will force low-performing farms to meet the standard or else they will simply go out of business.

Some small farms probably will be forced to cease operations as a result of this new legislation. Simply put, the cost per cow is too high. As taxpayers we can not be expected to foot the bill to subsidize farms with dairy compacts. Even though no one really knows what the ideal cost is to keep cows content, the state legislature will set a cost per cow. Expenditures above this cost will be penalized. Because everyone knows that there are economies of scale, small farms probably will need to close and those cows will merge into larger farms.

Some farmers may be upset that I proclaim to know what is best for these cows but I certainly consider myself capable of making these recommendations. I grew up next to a farm and I drink milk. Let’s all rally behind the No Cow Left Behind Act.

Ken Remsen is principal of the Underhill I.D. School, 10 River Road, Jericho, VT 05465. E-mail: ken.remsen@cesu.k12.vt.us. An earlier version appeared in the Burlington Free Press in Burlington, Vt., which granted permission for reuse.