Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind: Advocates for Educational Justice Disagree about How to Change It

by: Kelly Virella

African American and Latino 17-year-olds read and do math at the same levels as 13-year-old white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The goal of the federal No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2001, is to close this âachievement gapâ by 2014.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) says:

* Every school must raise every student to grade level (âproficiencyâ) in math and reading by 2014.
* Every school must show that it is making âadequate yearly progressâ (AYP) toward that goal for every âsubgroupââincluding the five largest ethnic groups, English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.
* High-poverty schools that receive âTitle Oneâ money from the federal government, if they donât make AYP for two years, must pay for tutoringâor transportation if students want to transfer to another school.
* The same schools, if they fail to meet AYP for six years, must ârestructureâ with a new staff or some other drastic change.

The law is ambitious. Has it been working? Should it be renewed when it expires this year? Is 100% proficiency by 2014 the right goal?

Agreement on Need

Advocates for educational justice agree that:

* The law has shone a much-needed spotlight on the racial and economic âachievement gap.â
* Most schools are far from closing this gap. Schools with large numbers of low-income students and students of color are now being shortchanged and need major new resources to equalize education.
* Children learning English should learn the same material as othersâbut most states are not doing a good job of testing English learners.

Keep it or Change it?

Many organizations dedicated to educational equity are now taking opposite sides on how NCLB should be changed when Congress renews it this year or next.

The Achievement Alliance (AA), including the Education Trust, National Council of La Raza, the Business Roundtable, and others, says the law is moving schools in the right direction.

The Forum for Educational Accountability (FEA), including the Childrenâs Defense Fund, the NAACP, the PTA, FairTest, and many more, says the law should change course.

Effects on Schools in Disadvantaged Communities

AA: âThe biggest thing that NCLB did is focus the nation on whether each subgroup is achieving,â says Russlyn Ali, director of Education Trust-West. âItâs no longer OK that black and brown children fly below the accountability radar.â The law has given low-income schools more moneyâand a yardstick to compare their achievement to others.

FEA: âIn every state, the greatest number of schools failing to make AYP are low-income, minority schools,â says Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. And only high-poverty (Title One) schools receive penalties.

Standardized Testing

AA: Standardized testing is useful because it exposes the achievement gap. âFor decades, white and wealthy kids have been mastering those assessments at higher levels,â says Ali. âOur kids are judged, whether it be the driverâs ed test, the bar (exam), the SAT test, a test (for) an apprenticeship program. We have to empower our kids to do better on those assessments.â

Testing does not necessarily drive art, physical education and other subjects out of schools, Ali adds. âIn high-performing high-poverty schools, you donât see âdrill and kill,ââ she says.

FEA: Standardized tests are unfair because they do not accurately reflect what students can do. âIf you want to see if a kid can write, look at their writing rather than giving them a standardized test on composition and grammar,â says Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest.

Schaeffer points out that under NCLB, many schools have eliminated important subjects like art and physical education. âWhat is tested is taught,â he says. âClasses have become little more than test-prep factories.â

Fairness to Kids with Disabilities

AA: Special education has become a dumping ground for many children who probably donât have disabilities, says Ali. âThere has been an influx of especially black boys in special ed. It defies science. We have to hold schools accountable for their learning.â NCLB allows districts to modify tests to accommodate disabilities for up to 3% of students. New federal rules will double that number.

FEA: Districts should also use other methods to assess children with disabilities, says Lynda Van Kuren, communications director for Council for Exceptional Children. âWe have to look at our students individually,â Korten says. âSome of our students are making wonderful strides but that is not necessarily showing up on standardized tests.â

100% Proficiency by 2014

AA: This goal is fair and achievable, as the progress of many high-poverty schools shows. âWhen I talk to parents, and I ask them if 12 years (from 2002, when the law was enacted, to 2014) is enoughâ time for a school to raise every student to grade level, âthey say, âthatâs the duration of my childâs K-12 experience,ââ says Ali. âThatâs too slow.â

FEA: Schools should be accountable for doing what it takes to get better, not meeting arbitrary testing targets. Rather than preparing for standardized tests, schools should focus on training their teachers and helping parents become better educational advocates for their children.

FEA cites experts like Robert Linn, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, who told the Washington Post, âThere is a zero percent chance that we will ever reach a 100 percent target.â

English Learners: Changes Advocated

âI wouldnât want to set a bar lower for our students just because they donât know the language,â says Melissa Lazarín, senior education policy analyst with National Council for La Raza.

But some members of both AA and FEA want to change the way English learners are tested. NCLB allows states to make special accommodations for English learners for three to five years. But California and many other states test students only in English after one year.

âRight now a lot of the assessments are a test of the studentâs knowledge of English and not a test of the (material)â in the curriculum, says Lazarín. âWeâre advocating for states and the federal government to develop appropriate assessments. That may be English. That may be native language. That will depend on the student.â

The Children's Advocate is published by the Action Alliance for Children.
Learn More

— Kelly Virella
Children's Advocate


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.