President George W. Bush, with bipartisan support, signed into law No Child Left Behind. The purpose was clear. It was supposed to place the focus on education, and raise standards, so that our children continued to enjoy the greatest educational system in the world.
Contrary to being a federal program, there would be no national achievement standard. Standards-based assessments were to be devised and implemented by individual states. In exchange, they would receive federal funding to achieve goals. Also, any state school accepting Title I funds would need to meet AYP (Annual Yearly Progress). This meant demonstrating improvement, yearly. For example: 4th graders would perform better in 2010 than 4th graders in 2009. State participation was not mandatory. However, states would lose federal monies if they chose not to participate.
Supporters of NCLB claimed that it would increase accountability of schools and teachers. They believed standardized testing was great for measuring student performance. It was also believed that it would increase parental involvement, with notifications of unqualified staff and more detailed report cards.
That was 2001. Where are we today, and how has NCLB worked?
Poorly, I’m afraid. We no longer teach our children to think. We “teach to the test”. Our children can fill in beautiful bubbles, it’s true. They are encouraged to become masters of memorization. But this is not learning.
Is it the teachers, the actual test, or the inclusion of disabled student’s scores? Who or what can we blame?
It is virtually impossible to place blame on any one part of this, because there is no national standard. We are guaranteed that our children will be instructed by “highly qualified” teachers. Yet, each state determines what that means for them. States develop their own assessments. Even with all the sovereignty, they are manipulating scores. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing revealed cheating in 37 states. Yes, 37 states.
The people we trust to teach our children are cheating. Lower scoring children are being reported as absent on test days. The thumbs up or down method is being used to hint at correct or incorrect answers. And, in some cases, incorrect answers are brazenly erased and the correct response filled in.
Ah…state sovereignty! Why the cheating? You create your own tests, so just lower the standards. All the cool kids are doing it.
Texas (Yep, Texas) reduced the number of questions that students must get correct, after many got almost no answers right. Michigan reduced the number of students who must pass statewide tests, from 75% to 42%. Colorado chose to lump pupils who were “partially proficient” in with the “proficient” group.
As a Harvard graduate, President Obama speaks, eloquently, of education reform. He says, “And I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in it’s implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them.” Agreed.
He continues, “This does not mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability. In fact, the way we’ve structured this, if states want more flexibility, they’re going to have to set higher standards, more honest standards, that prove they’re serious about meeting them.” I am sorry, Mr. President, but I have to disagree with you on there. States have proven, time and time again, that they will lower standards, escape accountability, and they will do these things dishonestly.
In all fairness, what else would they do? With our economy still hung over, each state needs federal funding desperately. And, since we are speaking of honestly, No Child Left Behind is…LEAVING CHILDREN BEHIND!! It was an admirable goal. But it did not work. It will not work. We are falling farther back. It has, in fact, caused more harm than it ever did good. Valerie Strauss sums it up, beautifully.
“Do we want to be a decent society or a decadent society? Do we want to nurture, protect and inspire all of our children? Do we want children who are leaders or followers? Do we want to make sure that this generation of young people is prepared to sustain our democracy? Do we want citizens prepared to ask questions or just to answer questions posed by authorities?
Surely the greatest nation in the world can mobilize the will to do what is right for the children. It won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, and it won’t be fast. Doing the right thing never is. The only simple part is to recognize that what we are doing now is not working and will never work. What we need is a vision of a good education for every child. We should start now. Today.”