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NCLB Outrages

'No Child' sanctions doom all to failure

There is an almost mathematical certainty that under the current system of identifying schools making inadequate progress, all of our nation's schools will eventually be on that list.

By Art Rainwater

One of the most significant occurrences in public education during my years as superintendent has been the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed with the intention of changing and improving public education. The act is significant because it is the first time the federal government has inserted itself into determining the quality of K-12 education at the local level. NCLB captures both the best and worst of current educational thought.

The recognition of the importance in understanding our children's learning needs through good academic assessment has been a major positive change. Educators have the best chance for success when we are using academic performance data about each individual child to inform instruction.

The use of student data to examine and then increase the performance of groups of children who are disproportionately not achieving proficiency has created much needed debate. This is particularly true regarding the performance of children of color and those who live in poverty.

Unfortunately, NCLB uses this very positive educational advance to create a punitive climate for change. Schools will not succeed because of the NCLB strategy of applying sanctions; schools will succeed when:

The need for change is understood based on clear and convincing data.

Well-planned staff development provides teachers with "best practice" skills.

Progress is monitored for improvement.

NCLB takes a punitive approach by identifying schools that are not making adequate yearly progress and applying increasing levels of sanctions. There is an almost mathematical certainty that under the current system of identifying schools making inadequate progress, all of our nation's schools will eventually be on that list.

The positive approach of using student data to inform instruction is negated by the certainty of ultimately being unsuccessful. If there is no hope for final success, it is difficult to undertake the journey.

Also, we have learned that by conducting appropriate and valid educational research we can develop successful teaching strategies. This has been a positive change, bringing together the university researcher and the classroom teacher. This marriage of what has been two very separate parts of the educational universe holds great promise for the success of our children.

The current federal law takes a negative step by funding through grants the use of pre-selected teaching models based on a very narrow range of available research. This prescriptive approach discourages the kind of continuous improvement in educational thought and practice that has brought us so far in understanding the learning process.

It is clear that current research in a variety of fields will change our understanding of the learning process. Without the ability to react by creating new and different models of teaching based on this research, we will be condemned to continually implementing outdated and questionably successful approaches.

Educators across the country understand the need for and have accepted the challenge of educating all of our children to high levels of performance. What's needed for progress is not sanctions but continued research, increasingly better teaching methods, and the encouragement and support of our communities as we strive to get better.

Art Rainwater is the superintendent of the Madison School District. This is one in a series of columns by the superintendent.

— Art Rainwater
The Capital Times


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