May 18, 2007


Time to hold the No Child Left Behind Act accountable

In 2001 The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed by the Bush administration. The NCLB is a federal mandate, which is focused on helping all students acquire the basic skills necessary for living a productive life, in particular it was focused on leveling the educational field for minorities and low income areas.

By the summer of 2007 Congress must decide to reauthorize the Act, scrap it all together, or try and fix it.

The NCLB Act is comprised of two main categories. The first area covers the issue of adequate yearly progress. Every state and school district is responsible for ensuring that students meet state standards for proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Schools must use data to ensure that every group of students is making adequate progress.

Another area that NCLB mandates is teacher quality. According to NCLB all special education teachers must be highly qualified. All special education teachers have to meet all the state standards. NCLB requires states to define a qualified teacher and to ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught disproportionately by inexperienced, ill-equipped, or out-of-field teachers.

Since its inception, while it had been greeted with enthusiasm by some, it has never achieved any of its stated goals, was never fully funded, has lost the support of the education community with many now considering ways to opt-out of the program, and the most damning aspect of all is that Hispanic children are failing and the achievement gap is no where near to closing.

In 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math scores show that high-stakes, punitive testing did not produce any meaningful improvements in student achievement. Reading scores were essentially unchanged from 2002 to 2005 at grade 4 and declined markedly at grade 8. Math scores did not increase at a significantly faster rate than in the 1990s, well before most high-stakes exams for elementary and middle school were put in place.

And according to NAEP, while reading scores for Blacks and Hispanics rose in the 1990s at grade four, they have been flat since 2000. At grade eight, they have been flat since 1998. The math gains these groups made in the 1990s have tapered off.

At the local, school site level, the focus of education has been not the learning but in the preparing for the test. Education has taken a decided slant of educators getting their students prepared for and practiced in test taking to exclusion of all else. And for the students themselves it has become a time of stress and worry.

The biggest issue with the NCLB is the punitive aspect of the program that labels schools as failures if certain bench marks are not reached and then penalizes these schools. In San Diego it is not uncommon for schools to fail due to the large Spanish speaking population which is included in the test taking, no matter what level of proficiency the students have with the English language. For this reason South Bay school districts have sued to change the law so students who are English Language Learners can take the Standardized test in a language they are familiar with and understand.

The No Child Left Behind Act is rift with problems and has failed to live up to any aspect of the proposed goals set out before it. It is time to scrap this program and refocus on how to achieve the goals of the NCLB which is to provide an equal education and close the achievement act. We don’t know what direction the federal education program should head, but we do know that what they have tried has not worked. We do have one idea though, instead of spending billions upon billions of unaccounted for dollars in Iraq, let us take that money and spend it on education and on educators!

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