No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a law created over 10 years ago for the purpose of narrowing achievement gaps seen with the poorest and minority students in the United States. The law requires that states demonstrate proficiency in math and reading in order to be eligible for Federal funding. Proficiency has been measured each year by increased use of standardized testing. These tests are also used to judge a teacher’s effectiveness in his or her classroom.

Standardized testing not working as intended, labeling successful schools as “failures”

Interesting intent, flawed results
Although one can argue that NCLB’s initial intent was reasonable, it is the resulting flaws in its application that are without question. Curriculum designs have been narrowed to “teach to the tests” in order to meet the demand of increasing proficiency requirements each year. To add more test prep time, other vital classes have been minimized or removed from curriculum altogether including the arts, music, library, and physical education. Teachers, whose evaluations depend on test results, are under relentless pressure to increase test scores at the costs of actual teaching, leaving many of them disheartened and disillusioned about their chosen profession. Instead of being allowed to develop cognitive thought process, they are forced to teach lesson plans that support multiple-choice testing by filling out endless bubble sheets, all the while forsaking their students’ futures in an ever-demanding global economy.

What does a failed school really mean?
NCLB requires that all schools must meet 100% proficiency by 2014 in order not to be labeled a failed school. 100%. All schools, all students. Really.

Failure to meet this mandate and each subsequent year’s proficiency goals, results in financial sanctions for schools that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the system progress reporting for monitoring NCLB achievement in reading and math. The structure of the AYP assessment program has set annual targets each year up to 2014. According to the law, when a school does not meet these targets year after year,they are labeled a “failed” school and will eventually be subject to restructuring including the possible firing of staff, privatization,and new charter schools being established in place of our neighborhood public schools. All this will happen regardless of how the parents and the community feelabout the continued existence of their schools.

What is the problem with setting targets and correcting for failure to meet them? We all do it at work and in life, correct? The problem is in how progress is actually measured, resulting in schools being mislabeled as “failures” when there has actually been real growth achieved.The calculation of AYP is quite involved to say the least. In short, schools must show proficiency in ALL potentially 36 areas allotted for math and reading in each subgroup (special education, free and reduced lunch, Hispanic, Black, English Language Learners, White, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, All students). If any one subgroup does not make their target, then the entire school fails to make AYP. This is true even if all targets are met in every other subgroup: if one fails, they all fail. By these standards of judging “all or nothing,” the work of the other 99% of the school population goes completely unrecognized, all their efforts unacknowledged.

NCLB assessments paint a skewed picture of our schools by ignoring the population as a whole and the uniqueness of the sum of its parts. One size does not fit all children, so why are they forced to be tested in this manner?

NCLB Waivers
Political representatives from all parties have voiced concern over the continued use of NCLB, but they have done little to correct it. In response to Congress’ failure to rewrite NCLB, the US Department of Education has offered to each state the opportunity to seek relief from the narrow requirements for NLCB, by accepting waiver requests that offer states more flexibility beyond the constraints of NCLB. These waivers allow states more freedom to implement their own accountability measures in accordance to the needs of their students.

To date, 46 states have either been granted or are currently applying for waivers from NCLB requirements. Every state that has requested a waiver has been granted relief, including Texaswhere NCLB actually originated. Pennsylvania was granted a partial waiver from NCLB in 2013.

Make no mistake, the waivers are not the final solution to this problem; they are only a step in the right direction away from NCLB. In order to save our public schools, much more work is needed to stop the further corrosion. What can you do? To start, it is important to know where your representatives stand on education reform, so reach out to them and let them know if they are properly representing your position.

NCLB has damaged the quality of public education in this country while failing to actually narrow the achievement gaps it purported to correct. They call this the “lost decade” in education, and unless there is real and dramatic change in our school systems now, our communities and children will continue to spiral into the educational abyss NCLB has created.