Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Problem(s) with No Child Left Behind

Back in January of 2002, then President George W. Bush signed a 670-page act into law that was supposed to raise the quality of American public education.

Problem #1 – One of the main authors, Margaret Spelling, who later was nominated to become Secretary of Education in 2004, never worked in a school system. Never. She holds a B.A. in political science and had never received formal training in education.

Problem #2 – The Bush Administration underfunded No Child Left Behind (NCLB) yet required states to comply with NCLB or they risked losing all of their federal education dollars. This resulted in states making budget cuts in field experiences, textbooks, and non-tested curriculum (because you know, those non-tested subjects don’t really matter and kids don’t need art/PE/music in elementary school).

Problem #3 – Many educators feel that NCLB encourages teaching to the test, so that students score well on the test and therefore earn rewards by doing so. Teachers feel that there are many valuable lessons involved with a variety of activities that cannot be measured by a standardized test, but those valuable lessons won’t matter and teachers will have less time to teach those lessons with the vast amount of information that “might” show up on the test. Last time I checked, a valid assessment for teachers to use is one that does not trick the student, and the students have a clear and concise set of targets (or objectives) that will be assessed on the test. It isn’t a point and shoot method or a hope and pray method. How are WE as educators supposed to implement this sort of strategy when even our own state standardized tests do not?

Problem #4 – Which brings me to my next problem – the standardized tests. Each state has their own set of standards, therefore they have their own standardized test. Comparing how students score in California cannot possibly be compared to how well students score in Mississippi. It literally is like comparing oranges to crawfish. I just do not understand how a school can be judged strictly based on test scores alone. States can compensate for inadequate student performance by setting the bar low and making the tests easier. Many times, the tests are flawed and are used to then identify schools as being successful or as failures. Instead of provide those failing schools with the support the students and staff need, they are “punished” with counterproductive sanctions. From my experience in the south, as schools were labeled as being unsuccessful, good teachers left because they can go work for an “A” or “B” school and be more likely to earn the bonus money the state provided from the FCAT. I know that teachers did not get into the profession to become millionaires, but if a teacher is working as hard as she possibly can, then why not be rewarded for her hard work and go somewhere else where the parents are involved? Because typically, when parents are involved in their child’s educational experience, the students are more successful and the parents support the school system because they themselves are college graduates. If the child has his basic needs met (breakfast in the morning, for example), he will perform better and make your job as a teacher that much easier.

In theory, NCLB should work. Teachers should be held accountable. Standards should be set for teacher qualifications. I do not oppose a merit based pay system (see previous posts), but I have yet to see one that will work across content areas and will include valid measurements of success. If states are hurting economically, I am not sure if a merit based system is also the answer – just ask North Carolina why they don’t adhere to that pay system any longer. From what I understand, it cost the state more money than what they were paying based on seniority and level of education.

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