No Child Left Behind may not be meeting the needs of the many, only the few. Christian Lyons explores this disparity.
President Obama and his administration recently invited states to renew their waivers for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was passed during the Bush administration in 2001. According to the information provided to the states, the renewed waivers could last through the 2018-2019 school year, adequately securing Obama’s education policy changes well into the next presidential term.
Among other terms included in the NCLB is Section 101: Improving the Academic Achievement of The Disadvantaged. Section 1001, Statement of Purpose, goes on to state:
The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.
The waiver renewal system allows schools to maintain their government funding by showing that their schools are implementing the program and keeping the promises they made in 2001 to improve low performing schools. Beyond that, a state must continue to show “how it will continue to ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career, through implementation of college- and career-ready standards and high-quality aligned assessments,” the new guidelines say.
What the NCLB does not seem to include is the means by which to increase teacher availability for populations that currently average one teacher for every 15.3 students. Education leader Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, said in an email statement recently:
The waiver guidance issued today says: No Child Left Behind failed, but you can get out of it if you have college- and career-ready standards, high-stakes testing on those standards, and teacher evaluations that rely heavily on testing. It’s basically Race to the Top without the funding … This new waiver guidance fails to pass this test.
Parents and other detractors of the NCLB have said similar things, that all the act has done was assure that their children make it through, whether they’re qualified to graduate or not. The act, according to some, has become a “diploma mill” in which the students continue to be unprepared for real world survival, even with a piece of paper stating that they graduated. According to Representative George Miller (D-California), who helped author NCLB, there is concern that the waivers allow the performance of poor and minority students to slip through the cracks.
One of the NCLB’s requirements is that the schools adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which says in part:
The standards focus on core concepts and procedures starting in the early grades, which gives teachers the time needed to teach them and gives students the time needed to master them.
The standards draw on the most important international models, as well as research and input from numerous sources, including educators from kindergarten through college, state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, parents and students, and members of the public.
CCSS has come under fire by parents and educational groups, who claim that the standards create a more complicated and unnecessarily complex set of guidelines that tend to marginalize those low-performing schools whose student base are unable to easily keep up with other schools utilizing the same standards. Some say that the CCSS are not state standards, but national standards. The tests that are still in development are given on computers that many schools cannot yet afford. And so far, there is no research or experience to justify the extravagant claims being made for the ability of these standards to ensure that every child will graduate high school “college and career ready.” By all accounts, the new Common Core tests will be considerably harder than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates.
There have been positive claims about CCSS:
- That it represents a tighter set of smarter standards focused on developing critical learning skills instead of mastering fragmented bits of knowledge.
- That it requires more progressive, student-centered teaching with strong elements of collaborative and reflective learning.
- That it equalizes the playing field by raising expectations for all children, especially those suffering the worst effects of the “drill and kill” test prep norms of the recent past.
The tests, written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to the testing companies—are not being approved or vetted by actual classroom teachers or parents. This has led some to claim that NCLB is out of touch with the tough reality many face in classrooms today.
Are we only paying lip service to increased proficiency in the classroom? How can we assure that NCLB and CCSS are not simply band-aids on a much bigger problem? These are some the questions the Obama administration may have to face in the days and months ahead.