Re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and Its Hidden Agenda
The great insult of NCLB is its unspoken goal of ensuring competence in reading, math, and science to the exclusion of all the other subjects which provide the tools needed to foster citizenship in a democracy.
by Barbara L. Minton
The re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has become a priority for the final year of the Bush administration. The fact that independent test results have shown NCLB to be a dismal failure seems to make no difference. With a little tweaking, it must continue. As debate on this legislation heats up, a review of the issues surrounding NCLB and the agenda behind it may be in order.
NCLB is a federal law that provides money for a small amount of extra educational assistance for poor children in return for perceived improvements in their academic progress. Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the primary responsibility for public education. However, if states want to receive federal NCLB funds, they must agree to the law's requirements. In a time of diminishing state coffers and increasing disregard for the Constitution, states have little alternative but to comply. The result is continued build-up of big centralized government as control is wrested from the hands of the people.
If states want to receive NCLB funds, they must agree to the law's requirements to:
1) Establish learning standards, that is, statements of what children in the state should know and be able to do in reading, math and science, at various grade levels.
2) Create annual assessments (standardized tests, in most states) to measure student progress in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high schools.
3) Set a level (cut-off score) at which students are considered proficient in test areas, and...
4) Report to the public on what percentage of students are proficient, with the information broken down by race, income, disability, language proficiency, and gender groups.
The goal of the law is that all students will score at the proficient level by 2014. Each year, students in every subgroup must reach the target. Schools and districts that fail to meet these targets are subject to the following consequences:
1) After one year, schools failing to make adequate yearly progress (APY) are placed on a "school improvement list".
2) Students attending schools that do not make AYP for two years in a row will be given the option to transfer to another school in the district.
3) Schools on the list for 3 consecutive years must provide supplemental services for their students, such as tutoring or after school programs. Private tutoring companies are not subject to the same guidelines as public schools.
4) After four years on the list, schools must, in addition to the above, do at least one of the following: replace school staff, use new curricula, decrease school management authority, appoint outside experts, extend school year/day, or restructure.
5) After five consecutive years, schools face restructuring, such as firing staff, privatization, charter school management, state takeover, or other comparable measures.
NCLB describes a worthy goal for our nation. Tragically, this legislation has exacerbated, not solved the real problems causing many children to be left behind:
* The gauge of student progress in most states will be reduced to reading and math test scores. Most schools have narrowed instruction to what is tested. Education achievement has been damaged, especially in low-income and minority schools, as students are coached to pass the test instead of learning a rich curriculum intended to prepare them for life.
* Most schools fail to meet the unrealistic demands imposed by the law's "adequate yearly progress" provision. Virtually no schools serving low-income children have cleared these arbitrary hurdles. Many successful schools have been declared "failing" and have been forced to drop what works for them.
* Sanctions intended to force school "improvement" have done the opposite. They have pitted parent against teacher, school against teacher, and school against school. They have diverted funding from the entire student body to relatively few students. The law's ultimate sanctions ΓΆ€“ privatizing school management, firing staff, state takeovers, and similar measures have no proven record of success.
* The federal government has failed to adequately fund the law. Most states are watching their educational resources dwindle and cutting their budgets to the bone, at the same time as being hit with the demands of the law. Neither federal nor state governments are addressing the deepening poverty that makes it difficult for so many children to achieve.
What would really help children?
As any effective parent or school psychologist will tell you, the way to get the results you want is through behavior shaping using positive reinforcement. In the long run, punishment never works. A law that really seeks to help schools will not be one that uses punishment to control schools, but one that effectively supports students and teachers and helps in providing students with rich learning experiences in which learning to think independently is central. It would be a law designed to integrate the school experience with the real world, and to measure advancement with quality assessments that relate to real experiences, rather than standardized tests.
Elected representatives should listen to educators and parents to determine the real needs of schools. Congress should work with states to ensure that all schools are adequately funded and that all children have adequate and nutritious food, housing, health care, and other basic needs to enable their success at school.
In the short term, Congress should amend the law to stop the destructive inflexibility of the "adequate yearly progress" provision and eliminate the requirement for states to provide assessment annually to all students in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math. The draconian penalties for low test scores should be eliminated. The overall amount of standardized testing during the school year should be reduced to allow more time for real instruction and learning experiences. The full curriculum that includes social studies, creative writing, geography, art, music, and sex education should be restored to its pre NCLB standing in the school day in terms of time and emphasis. The full curriculum is needed to produce educated citizens capable of participation in a democracy, and fully developed people from which future innovations will come.
A helpful accountability system that would emphasize local, classroom based student assessment information combined with a small amount of standardized testing is needed. Each school would report its progress and its problems to its own community and discuss with the community how to improve the schools. Each school would also calculate an 'opportunity index' that would include such factors as per-pupil funding, class size, number of books in libraries, number of computers available to students, age of these computers, teacher qualifications, school climate, efforts to include parents in the educational process, efforts toward integration of the school experience with the real world, and efforts to attend to children with special needs as well as efforts to integrate these children into the complete school experience. This index would be presented to the community at yearly intervals.
Where it is shown that schools have adequate resources but fail to provide quality education, the district would intervene with research based methods that have the proven ability to achieve success. The intervening agency would provide guidance and training, not punishment.
What's the real agenda behind the No Child Left Behind Act?
NCLB may be one of the greatest travesties ever foisted on an unsuspecting populace. Not because its goals are unrealistic, its mandate is unfunded, it favors federal control, or that it is based on punishment. The great insult of NCLB is its unspoken goal of ensuring competence in reading, math, and science to the exclusion of all the other subjects which provide the tools needed to foster citizenship in a democracy.
Competence in reading, math, and science sounds like a worthy goal. But when the job security of teachers and administrators is threatened by standardized test results, it becomes a certainty that all the efforts of the school community will be geared toward enabling the passing of the tests at all cost, with little regard for anything else. One result of this pressure on school staff is that instead of attending their accelerated classes, high achieving students are now frequently used as 'peer tutors' to help lower-achieving students.
The message of NCLB is that reading, math, and science proficiency, to the exclusion of everything else, is what is needed for the job market in the 21st century. These are the skills required to find a place in the corporate world. The corporate machine does not require knowledge of history, economics, geography, philosophy, literature, communications or the arts. Knowledge of these subjects doesn't contribute to the bottom line and tends to create people with the propensity to question authority, something such regimented entities as corporations, governments, and militaries don't want or tolerate.
Being able to write or speak and thus being able to comment on the state of affairs are considered undesirable attributes of masses of people who must be controlled, manipulated and exploited. Proficiency only in reading, math, and science stamps out uniqueness among individuals and replaces it with standardization. It is from uniqueness that the individual gains value. Strip him of his uniqueness, and he becomes no more than a commodity to be valued accordingly. With the loss of uniqueness goes the loss of independence and the ability to advocate for one's self.
NCLB halts the rise of the individual in its tracks. Thinking, questioning, and creating are now out. NCLB returns us to the time of minimal education for the masses which stressed the ability to work and obey orders. This method of producing people for the new world order returns us to a time when almost no child got ahead, therefore no child was left behind.
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
Barbara L. Minton
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES