Why we need to end “No Child Left Behind”

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.

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7 Responses to “Why we need to end “No Child Left Behind””

  1. Mark Says:

    It’s not even just a problem for Title I schools Tom. I have heard of schools with over 90% success rates, and if they don’t continue to improve, they can be labeled a ‘failing school’. So in other words, even if you have 99% success, you still have to go for 100% in order to succeed by NCLB standards.

    In what business, in what corner of the planet is 100% ever a realistic goal? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try or even strive to always to better, but when you’re talking about calling a school with a 90%+ success rate ‘failing’, it seems to me that the only thing failing is NCLB. I

    ‘d like to start testing some Senators and Members of the House every year, to see if they can pass basic competency exams on their jobs!

  2. Tom Hoberg Says:

    I‘d like to start testing some Senators and Members of the House every year, to see if they can pass basic competency exams on their jobs!

    Amen to that, Mark! And I’d like to know why the concept of “accountability” is supposed to apply to teachers, but not, say, the Bush administration…

  3. FranIAm Says:

    We live in a society of measurement. Metrics. Progress. Productivity. And the real devil of improvement! Measurable improvement!

    On Easter 2006 Meet the Press featured a number of religious leaders, I can’t remember who all of them are and who exactly said what. However I think it was maybe Michael Lerner (of Tikkun and I am not over the top about him in general for other reasons) who commented on this notion of our times.
    He made one brilliant point and I think it rings true for Christians especially… You can’t measure good works, love, effort of that kind. It is not a hard number and it may take years to bear fruit.

    I paraphrase but I think it is at the root of what is wrong with NCLB.

    And a lot of other things.

  4. Tom Hoberg Says:

    That’s a good way to think about it, FranIAm. Students are so unique, each one having different needs than the next. NCLB has resulted in increased standardization of teaching, curriculum, and testing–while minimizing the extent to which teachers can do their jobs creatively. It’s like the application of Ford’s assembly line to public education:

    Step 1: Insert [“research-based” curriculum (that just so happens to have been designed by the standardized testing company)

    Step 2: Read, implement the script.

    Step 3: Your students become amazing, critical thinkers “proficient” on the tests. Maybe.

  5. FranIAm Says:

    One other thought on this topic Tom… This is one of many ways in which our nation’s commitment to publicly funded education is eroded.

    That is very bad indeed- as someone who had the benefit of a great public education(when I was in elementary school in the 60’s-yes I am old!) I was in one of the top districts in the country. We were also a landmark district for integration.

    As we get away from this via homeschooling, private schools gone wild, voucher programs and charter schools there is a real danger. IMHO Charter Schools are just another way to privatize public education.

    Your steps above and a real focus on community education are essential to a strong future.

    Oh how I worry.

  6. Tom Hoberg Says:

    Fran, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jonathan Kozol, but you should read some of his stuff if you haven’t already. He’s brilliant, and he shares your view (and mine) that NCLB is a cynical attempt to highlight the divide between poor and rich schools so as to pave the way to a voucher system.

    I’m thinking of writing a “part 2” to this that’ll highlight the problem with vouchers. You make a good point about charter schools being part of the same problem. In both cases, you have a ‘preferred class’ of kids who are able to benefit from involved parents, and an ‘under class’ of kids whose parents are not involved enough to either get them a voucher to go elsewhere, or to get them into a charter school. And as a result, the kids get stuck at a school whose resources are being drained by the out-going vouchers.

    Anyway, this is a BIG DEAL. It will come down to the extent to which Americans value public education as an inherent right, and I do believe that this right is under attack.

  7. Sandy Says:

    I took my 34 years of experience as the most requested teacher and retired. The atmosphere is depressing and toxic.


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