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NCLB Outrages

Bush should abandon No Child Left Behind

by Ashleigh Steele / Sophomore international studies major

Last week I sat down and began to watch the State of the Union Address. And what most bothered me was the President's decision to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the president, "students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap." Perhaps President George W. Bush and members of his administration actually believe that No Child Left Behind is working, but the reality is that it's not.

Under No Child Left Behind, standardized testing is supposed to make schools accountable for their curriculum and increase teachers' and administrators' drive to enable their students to succeed. The children that were "slipping through the cracks" before the program was enacted are still falling through the cracks. Educators nationwide are not singing the praises of No Child Left Behind, but the president has called for its renewal.

When Bush praised NCLB for closing the achievement gap for minority students, he wasn't entirely correct. The Harvard Civil Rights Project found that the accountability mandates have an unequal impact on schools that have high minority populations.

Such schools turn to quick fixes rather than face the sanctions that come with not making the grade. Perhaps they make the tests a little easier, or they teach to the test rather than the planned curriculum. But such standards have caused schools with higher percentages of low-income and minority students to focus more on test scores and less on the curriculum. Students who already face adversity in their educational environments are now denied funding due to inadequate testing scores.

One of the "theoretical" benefits of No Child Left Behind is school choice. If a school is far below the standards set by the federal government, parents have the option to send their child to a better school. Sounds good, right? But when parents decide to remove their children from failing schools, they are taking funding away from schools that are already short on funds. The money that would have been allotted to the student through the public education system is now given to private or parochial schools. This part of NCLB reminds me a little (or a lot) of vouchers - taking money away from schools that need it and moving it to the private sector.

When a school is failing, the logical solution of this administration seems to be to take away its money rather than invest more in education. Before the implementation of NCLB, the majority of states tested students in every other grade. The current act requires students to be tested in each and every grade to monitor progress. Schools who are already financially strained are forced to spend more of their resources on testing.

While NCLB has reported increasing test scores nationwide, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the nation's report card) has reported less impressive figures. In Arizona twice as many eighth grade students scored proficient on the state reading test than they did on the NAEP. These statistics are further unbalanced when it comes to black and Hispanic students.

The act also requires unrealistic rates of improvement. For schools that wish to maintain their current rates of federal funding, students' test scores must improve each year. To meet the requirements, eighth grade mathematics scores would have to rise 7.5 times faster than the rate they rose from 1996 to 2003. These arbitrary requirements are not only hard to reach for schools that do not make the grade, but can be almost impossible for schools that are already thriving.

There have been civil lawsuits attempting to stop the punitive effects of NCLB. On April 20, 2005, the National Education Association, several affiliates and nine school districts sued Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, alleging that the federal government violated Sec. 9527(a) of NCLB. This provision prohibits the federal government from mandating a state to "spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act." The organizations and schools in question claim that the constant testing required by the act has been under-funded by the federal government. In fact, federal funding for NCLB is forty billion dollars less than the amount originally proposed.

When it comes to No Child Left Behind, one of the most fundamental questions should be, can a standardized test really determine a person's intelligence or educational level? Some people find standardized tests to be easy, but for others they prove to be much more difficult. Scores vary depending on cultural, racial or even socio-economic backgrounds. To say that the quality of education in our country can be assessed by constantly administering standardized tests over-simplifies the entire system. What our educational system needs is investment, not for funds to be taken away due to arbitrary testing.

Rather than creating a system that could be supported by federal and state funding, the administration has created an unreasonable accountability method that offers no way to refurbish the current educational system, but rather punishes those schools that are already failing. We need first to focus on making public schools better before we decide to implement these punitive measures.

— Ashleigh Steele
Daily Nebraskan


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