Is Our Children Learning?
In order to answer Bush’s widely quoted question: “Is our children learning?” we need to take a closer look at how public schools are performing and how they have been affected by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The Act makes the most sweeping change in decades in the role federal and state governments play in the nation’s schools.
While the ideals advocated in NCLB are commendable, the realities of the Bush plan are not. It imposes strict and expensive mandates on public schools. A recent study by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association estimated that even with the funding increases that the Bush Administration is providing to fund the Act, the federal government will give New Hampshire schools only about $80 per student, while costing the state $575 a student to implement NCLB. According to the House Appropriations Committee, Bush's 2004 budget under funds the act by $9.7 billion, leaving local communities — many already facing severe budget gaps — to make up the difference. (The budget also eliminated funding for rural education, gifted-and –talented programs, small schools, and technical education.)
On the other hand, the NCLB Act requires that at least 95 percent of all students enrolled in a school district take a math and reading test. For the 2003-2004 school year, each grade level must have at least 45 percent of the students at the proficient or advanced level in reading and 35 percent at the same level in math. (Every state must set a standard for the reading and math performance of its students. Students who meet or exceed that standard are considered proficient) In addition to the above items, the Junior-Senior High school must maintain a graduation rate of at least 95 percent or higher to make Average Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools that fail to make AYP in any of the above areas are put on a list for a warning, school improvement or corrective action.
Nobody argues that performance standards aren’t good. But when those standards fail to take into account the realities of teaching children with disadvantages – economically disadvantaged, language barriers, minorities, children with special needs - fails to fully fund the federal mandate and judges adequate progress using a one-size-fits all formula, the neediest children will certainly be the ones left behind. Special education kids, for instance, have to take these standardized tests prepared for their age level, rather than their “mental age” or IQ. Also, the performance of economically disadvantaged groups must be compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged. And the Bush Administration pushing the testing has reneged on the funds needed to help these kids through testing and assist schools full of kids facing the academic hardships created by extreme poverty.
Educators know and research confirms the types of programs which can close the education gap: highly qualified teachers and para-educators; sound professional development; early childhood programs; all-day kindergarten; small class sizes in the primary grades; highly involved parents, guardians and community; mentoring and tutoring; and quality summer programs. These services and programs will make a difference in a child's ability to meet and exceed NCLB and established state achievement standards; but there’s no funding for such programs. Instead, schools identified as “failing” or “in need of improvement” get sanctioned and Title I funds are further reduced.
“Identify schools as failures, order them to improve, then take away the money that will make improvements possible,” said Houston of the American Association of School Administrators.
The assumption of the NCLB system is that the test results represent what an educated person should know and be able to do. Few would say that an educated person only has high test scores. Most would say good scores are desirable but not sufficient to define an educated person. Most would say that schools must also produce good citizens, strong family members, contributors to society, and people engaged in democratic governance. None of these characteristics are measured by or deemed of importance in the federal accountability system.
"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test,'' Bush said (Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001). One just needs to pay attention to Bush’s grammar to know that scores alone don’t mean you are an educated person.
Erika Robles, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com), is a writer and translator now living in Eugene, Oregon. She was educated in Mexico City; London, England; and Melbourne, Australia. Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web page: http://www.geocities.com/oakspublishing
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES