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NCLB Outrages

Reworking Rochester Schools: No Child Left Behind rates an F

William A. Brideau

(June 5, 2007) ΓΆ€” Recently, I heard education heavyweight Jonathan Kozol say that he thinks the federal No Child Left Behind Act was designed to destroy public education.

While I do not quite share his views about the intention behind this legislation, I do think he is on to something. If allowed to continue, NCLB will cripple and annihilate the public schools of this country.

After reading Rosemary Rivera's poignant Speaking Out essay on May 30, ("No Child Left Behind fails children"), I felt compelled to write something.

I have had the (mis)fortune of spending over a year intently analyzing the philosophy and effects of this legislation ΓΆ€”ΓΆ€“ a program of study which culminated in my working with other students and a Hampshire College professor to create a documentary: The Cost of Accountability. Among the myriad flaws of NCLB, I have seen three extremely dangerous elements:

# NCLB uses a punitive system to enact changes toward "success." NCLB directly bears on the amount of Title I funding a school receives. When schools begin to founder, instead of receiving more funds to bolster their efforts, they receive less federal money.

Granted, federal funds only account for about 7 percent of education expenses (the rest is up to the local communities), but given the condition of public education, schools need as much of that 7 percent as they can get. Also, given the fact that this is a federal mandate, one would think the government would give schools more money to accommodate these new changes.

# The second problem is NCLB's affinity for the use of a single standard system ΓΆ€” the test. Standardized testing can provide a "dipstick" measure to give parents and teachers a broad, generalized view of how students are performing. However, NCLB uses this as the only indicator of student performance.

Tests do not account for the context of the student ΓΆ€” school life, family life ΓΆ€” these don't come across on a bubble sheet.

Standardized testing does not show definitively how students are doing, but due to Washington's ravenous desire to compare students as numbers in a chart, an unlimited amount of faith has been put into assessment promoted as definitive qualitative proof.

# Remember who is designing NCLB. Lawmakers throw together buzzwords like "accountability," "standards," "raising the bar," and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

They never see what the inside of a NCLB classroom looks like. The vast majority of lawmakers telling teachers how to teach have no experience in education. If students do well on tests, then obviously the bar is not high enough. Students flunk tests, and obviously there must be something wrong with our teachers.

These problems are only the tip of the iceberg. Better funding, alternative assessments, and discarding the philosophy of the standards and accountability movement would be a good start, but we need to do a whole lot more to make America's public schools strong ΓΆ€” and you can be certain it won't happen through NCLB.

Brideau,of Penn Yan, is entering his senior year at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

— William A. Brideau
Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle


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