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NCLB Outrages

Law sets up public schools for failure

End NCLB. Sign The Petition.

By Karen Johnson

The current status of the No Child Left Behind law has all the makings of a really bad TV reality show.

To be a winner, you have to get your group off a desert island. The show's producers promise to give you the necessary supplies, but they don't. You're required to load everyone into the same boat at the same time, even though some of your group members need special help.

Even worse, your rules keep changing while other contestants have different rules ΓΆ€” but you're all judged by the same standards.

That's the problem with NCLB. Our public schools are doomed to the perception of failure if we don't make some changes in this federal law.

NCLB rules are arbitrary

What needs to change? The list is substantial:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ To be considered "successful," schools must now meet dozens of benchmarks. If they miss just one, they're labeled "low-performing." The blanket penalties are impossible to explain and give the entire school a negative stigma, when in fact, it is an excellent school.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The federal government makes the rules without paying for the cost. Schools are required to help students who are financially needy, who need to learn English or who have disabilities The necessary federal money falls far short in each category, particularly in special education, where the feds pay only 18 percent of the actual cost.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The rules keep changing. At first, students who are just learning English took only the math portion of the annual test. Last year, they were tested on reading ΓΆ€” even though they couldn't speak English. Is it any wonder that some outstanding Metro schools missed the reading benchmark?

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The rules are different. Other states are allowed to set lower pass marks to reach the testing benchmarks. Other states are allowed to test high school students only once before they graduate, instead of the three tests necessary for graduation in Tennessee.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Private schools don't have any rules at all. No one really knows if private schools are doing a good job because NCLB doesn't require private schools to report their test scores ΓΆ€” or even participate in testing.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The ultimate goal is just not realistic. NCLB mandates 100 percent of students meet all testing benchmarks by 2014. It doesn't matter if those students come from impoverished backgrounds, if they just arrived in the U.S. with little or no English proficiency or if they have disabilities. Are we truly helping those with the most needs? Every child can succeed, but there are variables that must be considered and handled appropriately.

Without these changes ΓΆ€” and more ΓΆ€” public schools in the U.S. will be subject to the perception of failure. And it's just a perception, because schools can meet 99.9 percent of all the benchmarks and still get a low-performing label.

It's not fair, and even worse, it is tearing away the very foundation of public schooling in America. This is no reality show. Congress must change the law.

Karen Johnson is a member of the Metro Nashville Board of Education.

— Karen Johnson
The Tennesseean


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