The No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization, and it is about time. When it was first passed in 2001, proponents of NCLB said it would introduce high standards for achievement and accountability to under-performing teachers and schools. George Bush even came out with one of the best one-liners of his career: “We are challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Well, that’s all well and good in theory, but after teaching at an at-risk, Title I school for the last two years, I’m here to tell you what virtually every public school teacher will tell you: NCLB simply does not work.
NCLB’s stated purpose is to hold teachers and schools accountable. This was supposed to be accomplished by implementing standardized testing with high stakes: goals are set from the beginning of the year for what level the students need to improve by, and if they do not by the end, they become a “Needs Improvement” school. Next year, the bar climbs higher, and the charade continues.
At my school last year, we raised our scores approximately 15% in reading and math–yet we still fell 4% short of the goal. Too bad for us–whether you fall short by 4% or 19%, the law makes no distinction in how to proceed. Today, we are a “Year 5 Needs Improvement School” which means that for 5 years we have failed to meet the lofty standards of No Child’s Behind Left Untested.
To those who still believe that high stakes testing is an effective way to motivate teachers, schools and students to academic success, I challenge you to talk to a teacher at a Title I school before you get too set in this point of view. Or, call one of your favorite teachers from back in the day, and get her or his perspective. If everyone on all sides of this issue actually listened to the input of real teachers, wouldn’t public education be better off in the long run.