Parents like No Child Left Behind, just not in their children's school
by Dan Berrett
Parents of public school students tend to believe the landmark education law No Child Left Behind is a good idea ΓΆ€” except when it comes to their own schools.
That was one of several dissonant opinions revealed in survey results released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, based in Washington, D.C.
Pew found that 42 percent of parents of school children "have relatively positive views" of No Child Left Behind. But just 30 percent think the law has actually made their children's schools better. At the same time, just 17 percent of parents thought it had harmed their children's school. Forty percent thought it made no impact at all.
"There does seem to be a disconnect in how parents of public schoolers view the law," Carroll Doherty, Pew's associate director, noted in an e-mail. "It's hard to say why."
No Child Left Behind is often cited as the most significant domestic policy achievement of President George W. Bush's tenure. Signed into law in 2002, it is currently up for reauthorization.The law mandates that states regularly assess their students' learning and post the results publicly.
These assessments of reading and math are done via standardized tests. In Pennsylvania, they are conducted annually between third and eighth grade, and once in high school.
The results are broken out by racial and demographic groups; proponents of the law say that the purpose of doing so is to prevent districts from hiding the test scores of traditionally neglected or lower-performing groups of students.
It was this aspect of the law that drew the most support in Pew's study. Twenty percent of people in the general population said that they thought students had received more individual attention as a result of the law, and were less likely to be neglected.
But the tool to measure students ΓΆ€” standardized tests ΓΆ€” drew the most criticism.
Thirty percent of the public faulted the law for too much testing and said it made faculty "teach to the test," which they said had worsened schools.
Locally, students take not only the state standardized test, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, but also several other tests throughout the year that are meant to establish benchmarks and measure progress. In many schools, students take sample PSSA questions or related exercises daily.
The starkest differences in opinion fell along racial and educational lines. Nearly a third of African-American respondents favored more testing under the law. This was nearly twice the percentage of whites who expressed the same view. In contrast, nearly two-thirds of college graduates thought the law focused too much on testing.
Media coverage and awareness of the law may have been a factor. Doherty said, 61 percent of college graduates had heard a lot about the law, about twice the percentage as those with a high school education or less.
"One of the dominant themes of news coverage about the law has been its stress on standardized tests," Doherty wrote.
The survey, conducted in April, included 1,508 adults. The sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES