October 5, 2007

Editorial:

No Child Left Behind Receiving an F Grade

Five years ago the President authorized the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Today this bill is up for reauthorization with a draft of the bill out of committee and being discussed in Congress (the Senate version is still in committee). The primary goal of the NCLB has been and is that “every child can learn,” with a focus on closing the achievement gap between minorities and white students.

Educational reform is desperately needed – Hispanics are at the bottom of the educational ladder failing in every important category such as high school graduation rates, achieving a college education, and in drop out rates. Unfortunately, this is a conversation we have had over and over yet with no progress. We embrace the idea of change, we need change to occur. When polled about the most important issues facing them today, Hispanics overwhelming state that education is their top priority.

We applaud the goal of raising expectation and eliminating the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Unfortunately, despite the lofty goals of NCLB it has failed to meet its primary goal of closing the achievement gap!

The NCLB has had its share of issues from the outset, the fact that there was never enough money to carry out much of the reform, the focus on passing “the test”, and the testing English language learners.

One of the biggest issues has been the penalizing of those schools that do not achieve sufficient improvement on a yearly basis; by 2014 the goal is to have all students at grade level in reading and math. While schools that achieve success are rewarded financially, those schools that fail to meet their stated school site goals are penalized financially, having to refocus, restructuring, firing/hiring, and seemingly on a perpetual spiral of failure. Invariably those schools that are failing are in the low income minority neighborhoods. And still the achievement gap persists.

One of the goals of NCLB has been to improve the gathering of data to better asses the results. What has come out of the new and improved data gathering is that, yes, test scores are rising across the board, but that the achievement gap has held steady – there has not been any closing of this gap. What has been derived from the data is that what was presumed to be the problem, that poor education results were a direct result of economic factors with the poor and low income Hispanics, is not the sole reason. What has become clear is that the gap held steady despite economic income, meaning that poor white students scored better on California’s state standardized test than middle class or wealthy Hispanic students were scoring. As state Superintendent of Education Jack O’Connell put it, “These are not just economic achievement gaps, they are racial achievement gaps.”

The House version of the NCLB reauthorization looks to close some of the loop holes in the old NCLB legislation, while creating others, yet it does little to identify the root problems or acknowledge the “racial achievement gaps.” The most notable changes include financial incentives for teachers; this reflects the same problem with rewarding schools that achieve and penalize those that don’t meet standards, and more local control in measuring of student achievement.

The new NCLB also relies on following “best practices” in achieving success. Unfortunately there hasn’t been shown any practices in achieving success in closing the achievement gap.

Should the NCLB be scrapped?

No, the goals are worthy and the necessity of improving the education of Hispanics is imperative. But legislatures and educators need to look at their data and determine WHY Hispanics across the economic spectrum are not succeeding! The one thing we know for sure is that the No Child Left Behind Act is receiving an F in closing the achievement gap and as such needs to be refocused and restructured. To continue down the same old path will yield few results no matter how well intentioned.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage