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It’s probably no secret that I was not a fan of Bush — either one. And from what we know from polls, the way the election went down, world sentiment, I am not alone in my dislike of these two men and their policies. One of the things I disliked the most was the second Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy, something that President Obama just said he was going to reform. Actually, the phrase that comes to mind is, as The New York Times put it, “sweeping change.”

What is NCLB? There’s a U.S. government-sponsored Web site about it, but, for those who don’t understand it or never followed it, here’s the deal: Enacted by Bush the second in 2002, NCLB requires schools to test children for specific proficiencies. Your school tests well, it gets federal aid money. It doesn’t test well: Parents can pull their kids out, send them to different schools, get free extra help. Oh, and the schools don’t get federal aid money. Here’s the catch: Certain scores are assessed separately. Kids who speak English as a second language, poor kids, minority kids — their scores often don’t count.

Aside from the fact that that’s a crock since it means those groups don’t get the same attention and care that they should, here’s my biggest problems with NCLB: the teachers end up teaching to the tests. They don’t teach critical thinking, they can’t spend time on the whys. All they can do is get kids to learn things by rote because they need to make sure those kids fill in the right little bubbles on the testing sheet. You could have a terrible teacher who knows how to get kids to memorize stuff but can’t inspire kids to actually learn.

Teacher unions are against the Obama plan, of course. They don’t like one of the provisions being discussed — merit-based pay. Congress doesn’t like the fact that funding will be reallocated based not on the number of kids in a school but on the actual help needed. (And for what it’s worth, I think the entire funding thing is messed up, too.) However, there are some bright spots in the overhaul. Personally, I love the fact that the new plan, if implemented, will create new standards of success including one that requires kids to be “college or career-ready” by the time they graduate high school. This takes into account that everyone doesn’t do well on tests, but that everyone out there can be a productive member of society. It should also raise overall standards for those kids who are education-minded.

This is important because, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we’re ranked 24th out of 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries when it comes to our 15-year-olds’ math proficiency. We ranked 17th out of 29 for science. A recent Education Week story even pointed to the fact that Americans may soon fall behind when it comes to technology, too. In my opinion, NCLB is partially to blame for this disparity. The reason that kids from other countries regularly outperform those from the States, especially when it comes to math and science, is that you can’t “memorize” math and science. You have to understand it to do well. Which brings us back to the pointlessness of testing.

Of course, President Obama’s plan has to make it through Congress, no easy task these days. It also needs more fleshing out. But, as far as I can tell, we’re finally going in the right direction.

What did you think of No Child Left Behind? What do you think of the quality of your child’s education? Your own education? If you’re from another country: what’s great about how your country educates? What do you see as the major mistakes being made here in the States as well as around the globe? Let’s discuss.

5 Responses to “Why No Child Left Behind Should Be Left Behind”

  1. DJ Wells says:

    I think there’s a bigger problem facing kids’ education, and this comes from someone who TAUGHT in public schools, both rural and urban. The biggest problem is not what funding is allocated to a child’s education, or the magnitude of goverment intervention on the behalf on a particular school, region, or group of students… In my humble opinion, the number ONE determination of success of a child in schools is PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT. This does not mean the kids with the most parental involvement will get the highest grades. It means that the majority of kids’ whose parents were involved always had their homework, had the extra credit projects completed, were held responsible for their actions, assignments, behavior, accomplishments AND failures at school. Teaching a student is NOT SOLELY the responsibility of a teacher. Parents MUST reinforce themes such as organizational skills, responsibility, citizenship, and dedication to excellence at home. Parents should provide a quiet, clear, uncluttered, and distraction free zone for homework and studying. There is no government agency advocating for that, is there? As I changed my career, added more hours, especially during tax season, a year-long work schedule, and became a parent myself, I LIVE by my beliefs that the key to a child’s success is parental involvement. I got into work early, pre-made dinner and worked my daily schedule around a school event tonight, supporting my child and his project that he is presenting, which, he started the day he was assigned it. I e-mail his teachers when he’s sick (from work) to see if there’s any way I can help him make up the work he’s missed. Teachers are getting an unfair shake here. A teacher can encourage a student to do their best, all the time, for the 6 or so hours they have them a day from September to June. The other 18 hours are completely our of their control. I’ve seen, firsthand, motivation fly out the window due to an apathetic parent. I’ve seen a parent redirect the responsibilty of a 3rd grader misplacing his sweatshirt to blaming a teacher (me) of STEALING it. One word of advice to anyone reading this. The parents who hindered their childrens’ education most were the parents who were the first to say, “NOT MY CHILD”, because, the majority of the time, yes… YOUR child. So, in my opinion, the teacher, the school administration, the government all of which are involved in this childs’ education from September through June for 6 hours a day, have the LEAST impact. What’s being taught the other 18 hours, perhaps THAT’S the bigger question.

  2. Isabel says:

    I agree that the No Child Left Behind was a lame attempt at to improve our education system. You are right in the fact that holding all students to the same standards is unrealistic. Children are very different. They need to be taught in diferent ways to accomplish the ultimte goal, which is to help them become good citizens and functioning members of society.
    I don’t understand your comment, “Here’s the catch: Certain scores are assessed separately. Kids who speak English as a second language, poor kids, minority kids — their scores often don’t count. ” and I think you have your facts mixed up. Students who just arrived from other countries have one year, (which is ridiculous, since it takes 4-7 years to learn a new language), before their scores are included in the schools. They shoud be give them more time to learn English before you can compare their score to children who learned English as their first language. Teachers that teach them should not be judged on the same scale either.
    I would also like to talk about merit-pay, and why some teachers are against it. It is unclear and undefined on how teachers can fairly be judged for merit pay. Many discussions seem to aim at looking at student performance, an unfair practice. Students from middle and upper class homes will generally out perform the poor kids .When “rich” kid encounters problems in school, they are rescued with tutors, special classes and the help from their educated, literate, and successful parents. So should teachers that teach the “rich” make more than teachers who teach the “poor”? How many teachers would be competing to teach the “gifted and talented students”? Who will be left to teach the children with learning disabilities? Who will be left to teach in the poor neighborhoods with the ESL kids?

  3. Donald D says:

    Let me start with what I agree with NCLB didn’t work it was never fully funded and it forced teachers to teach to the test like you said. I also agree that college shouldn’t be the only answer for kids. If children learned trades and other skills that they can use in the work place that would help those children and the kids going to college. Less demand for college lower overall cost. Lets move on to where I think you dropped the ball starting at the top I’m sure president Obama would love to have the poll numbers the Bushes enjoyed after their first year in office. I don’t know what they were off hand but I’ll bet they were over 45%. Merit pay doesn’t work because you can’t judge it fairly unless you have some sort of evil test. Even then not all kids are the same so how can that test be fair. The college or career path plan is just another way to pigeonhole children and I feel its my job as a parent to help my child choose his or her path in life not the schools or the government…

  4. Chris says:

    Obama has said a few times now that he does not want performance based pay programs to be determined by arbitrary test scores. Obviously, this would result in the same problems seen with NCLB today and “teaching to the test”. It would probably make it even worse.

    I’m not sure why so many feel that is the only way to implement a merit pay system. Performance based pay is the standard in the majority of workplaces today. It is rarely based on a single score or measure, but a cumulative score based on initiative, accountability, innovation, teamwork, communication, leadership, interpersonal skills, etc. – as judged by management and/or peers.

    The only reason to avoid such a system is the common side-effect – it weakens union solidarity. Someone who works hard and is rewarded for it is less likely to stand beside and fight for someone who they know is less deserving, in order for the collective group to gain what they have already achieved through performance and hard work.

    You will never see support from the Teachers union for anything resembling performance based pay, even if it wasn’t based on test scores or student performance.

  5. Emily says:

    Karen,
    Your analysis of NCLB is both erroneous and oversimplified. Although it was faulty in many aspects and does need reform, NCLB actually brought the spotlight on the achievement gap between white students and their minority counterparts. It also illustrated the huge disparity between wealthy and poor school districts and how their students fare. I am against testing for testing sake, but if you think the Obama plan is going to eliminate testing, you’re absolutely incorrect. In fact, the movement to follow a growth model would probably require more frequent testing; the difference is that schools would track students’ growth in a year as individuals. And by the way, those subgroups you mentioned? Not only do they count, they matter significantly. The failure of one or two subgroups to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) over two years could result in that school or district being categorized as a “School in Need of Improvement.” So yes, those children count. A lot. No one is exempt from testing. Not even severely disabled students.
    One positive aspect of NCLB is that from it came the mandate for school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program to establish Wellness Policies and the regulations to enforce those policies. While we have a long way to go, many public school districts have made the commitment to provide healthier foods and increase physical fitness for students. Many districts have banned junk food, soft drinks and food-based celebrations in the classroom, which often resulted in a sugar and processed food fest. You, as the Natural As Possible Mom, should know that.
    I have read and written about NCLB pretty extensively. I also serve as vice president of my school board in a socio-economically and racially diverse school district. I know first-hand the effects of NCLB, both positive and negative. I have great hopes for Arne Duncan and hope that the reforms put forward by his department find backing. But it’s going to take more than federal legislation to improve public education where we live. In New York State we face drastic budget cuts, increasing property taxes, and a host of new unfunded mandates. Right now, I’m thinking it’s going to take a miracle.

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