What Journalists Are Saying About NCLB
As the racially charged fights over desegregation recede into the past, a new national debate over how to close the minority achievement gap has emerged. Not only is integration hard to achieve, but it is no longer universally assumed to be the key to excellence. If anything, the argument has been reversed: To have any hope of luring whites into majority-black schools, educators must first raise academic achievement in those classrooms. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act is the most prominent example of this intellectual shift. The law does not concern itself with how integrated a school is. It simply demands achievement from every student, in every school.
Critics of the law say it relies on "fuzzy math" to humiliate and flunk schools for falling mere decimal points short of minimums. Instead of broadening educational choice and establishing excellence, they say it achieves the opposite effect of its feted title and deprives poor students of well-rounded learning.
U.S. News & World Report explains:
For its part, the Bush administration has … eased accountability requirements for non-English-speaking and disabled students, thus lowering the number of schools that will be labeled as failing. But it has also warned states that if they drop out of the program, all of their federal education funding for disadvantaged kids--not just No Child Left Behind grants--will be cut. That could mean a revenue loss of almost 15 percent in some poorer districts.
State report cards for schools often clash with federal guidelines--marking schools labeled excellent locally as failures, according to Education Week. Twenty-one states instituted their own measurements of school success. In North Carolina, for one, 90 percent of schools met state achievement levels but only 47 percent did so nationally.
Michael Dobbs explains the difficulties of such a demand in the Washington Post :
Some educators argue that the law is exacerbating a shortage of good teachers, particularly in schools that receive federal subsidies and cater to large numbers of disadvantaged students. Under No Child Left Behind, such schools are already required to hire only highly qualified teachers. The additional paperwork, some principals say, compounds an already complicated recruiting challenge.
The law requires that teachers have experience in their field of teaching, a bachelor's degree and state certification--a difficult feat for teachers, especially outside cities, who juggle multiple subjects. On Monday the Bush administration gave some rural schools an extra year to prove that they deserve to stay open.
Despite this leeway, the law rates students' abilities on four levels, without defining what "below basic" to "advanced" mean. Dan Seligman of Forbes argues that this in fact lowers minimum standards because some opt out of definitions set forth by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Seligman blasts NCLB for its fundamental flaws of logic:
[T]he law's main problem continues to be unrepresented in the news stories. The problem is that some students are not smart enough to do well on tests. This might be considered too obvious to mention but for some astounding details about No Child. For openers, it proposes to eliminate--not reduce, eliminate--the "achievement gap" between prosperous and impoverished students. The gap is tremendous and in large measure reflects socioeconomic IQ differences. The states with the most students eligible for the federal free/reduced lunch program (a fairly good indicator of poverty status) reliably produce the lowest reading and math scores.
And Steven Phillips of the Times Educational Supplement finds that the race to play catch-up with remedial students excludes some 3 million "gifted" U.S. children.
scalating sanctions, triggered by failing to meet annual proficiency goals, are pushing schools to plunge resources into remedial education at the expense of programmes to encourage their cleverest students.
Phillips and groups like the American Federation of School Administrators bemoan the creation, as they see it, of a generation of mediocre minds. The law forces schools to "teach to the test," shunning the humanities for easily measurable math and science and thus stiffing students on a well-rounded curriculum, as Time magazine reports:
Here are some of the things kids at Garfield/Franklin elementary in Muscatine, Iowa, no longer do: eagle watch on the Mississippi River, go on field trips to the University of Iowa's Museum of Natural History and have two daily recesses. A sensible bargain has been struck: literacy first, canoe trips later. But there are more substantive losses too. Creative writing, social studies and computer work have all become occasional indulgences. Now that the standardized fill-in-the-bubble test is the foundation upon which public schools rest--now that a federal law called No Child Left Behind mandates that kids as young as 9 meet benchmarks in reading and math or jeopardize their schools' reputation--there is little time for anything else.
Who demanded these kinds of standards? Despite the direct effects on their members, teachers unions were largely silent before the law passed. Many business leaders, however, voiced their support. Former New Yorker writer Nichlolas Lemann told PBS's Frontline in 2002 how standardized test companies, who produce most of the nation's textbooks, influenced passage of the law.
The analogy would be the defense contractors' relationship to the Pentagon. The test companies are where the state has to go to buy their equipment, and they have a very close, complicated, intense relationship with the state Ed. Departments, so they tend not to get left out of the process.
Conservative columnist George Will of the Washington Post backs the law and challenges Democrats to come up with a better alternative:
Teachers unions recoil from accountability and resent evidence that whatever is wrong cannot be cured by increased funding. But per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, is three times what it was 40 years ago, and the pupil-teacher ratio is 40 percent lower, yet reading scores are essentially unchanged.
Republicans were proud that Bush achieved bipartisan support for the sweeping domestic law some three months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. In their eyes, Clinton failed to reform healthcare during his first year in office, but Bush pushed through the largest federal attempt at education reform since 1965.
Even "Massachusetts liberal" Senator Ted Kennedy supported it -- though he's now distancing himself from its shortcomings.
A National Review editorial assesses the political outcome:
If opposition to the reform grows and the sweeping plan fails to deliver on its ambitious goals, Democrats will strengthen their advantage on education issues--and Republicans alone will be held responsible for the most unpopular regime Washington ever attempted to impose on our public schools.
Schools have one decade to meet these requirements but many think the law have to shift its rigid definitions of school success. What are some of the possible solutions?
In Business Week, William Symonds suggests fixing No Child by making its deadlines and standards more flexible. He agrees with the Teaching Commission, a thinktank headed by a former IBM chairman, which recommends luring educators into rough urban schools with higher pay than their suburban counterparts. "The law was a great start," Symonds says. "Now that lawmakers can see its shortcomings, they need to act. The worst that could happen is that No Child is left unchanged, blowing apart the consensus on reform -- and leaving behind yet another generation."
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