Is No Child Left Behind…threatening to leave our nation behind?

September 29, 2011

It has been ten years since the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), but there has been little to no improvement in our country’s education standing amongst other industrialized nations in the world.

Last week, President Obama offered those states struggling under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program’s strict requirements some flexibility which includes waivers from some rules, in particular the one which requires students to meet reading and math proficiency by 2014. But opponents of the NCLB don’t see this as a move in the positive direction. In fact they don’t see NCLB as having had any positive impact on the health of the U.S. educational system. The NCLB as a whole has become the platform from which all blame concerning our country’s educational system is cast onto the teachers. Since the implementation of NCLB, teachers have been at the receiving end of the criticism.

The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001 and signed into law in January 2002. It requires all states to develop tests intended to measure and assess the basic skills given to all students in certain grades so that federal funding for public schools are granted to those states. All government-run schools are to annually administer a state-wide standardized test to all students. Students attending publicly-funded schools in poorer neighborhoods and districts are subject to the same standardized tests as those offered to students in publicly-funded schools in more affluent areas. The students’ scores on these standardized annual tests will determine the school’s effectiveness in its teaching techniques. Scoring low on these examinations has several consequences: students will not be promoted to the next class grade, or graduate from high school, or be denied to qualify for college scholarships. These students may also change schools, attend after-school programs, and receive tutoring. Teachers and administrators are also judged on the basis of the students’ scores whereby high student scores qualifies them for bonuses and low scores, which is more prevalent, results in termination or reassignment. Schools with low scores are also subject to be restructured as public charter, private schools or forced to close. In addition, adhering to the ancient ritual of “shaming,” a factor in NCLB schools with low scores will receive public scolding while the personnel of those with high scores will be publicly praised.

Fearing the punitive ramifications hovering over their heads, our teachers and administrators have become so preoccupied with these annual standardized tests that we are now beginning to hear unfortunate news of cheating on tests perpetrated at times by the teachers. So much attention is given to these standardized tests that teachers lose sight of the actual art of teaching and exploring the subjects of study. We can’t place the entire place for America’s sagging academic achievement with public schools. We have a culture that undervalues education.

Our country’s obsession with standardized testing is pushing us away from the true art of educating even our student teachers in becoming professionals in their field. In an interview on American Public Media’s Marketplace, N.Y.U professor Diane Ravitch said: “…more focus on standardized tests…is going to lead to more cheating scandals because when you put unusual pressure on people to get scores or be fired, there’ll be people who’ll feel desperate and who cheat.” At a time when we need more teachers, we are seeing a drop in the number of students pursuing master’s degrees in education.

Dr. Ravitch, who is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education,” compares the American system with that of Finland, a country she recently visited which ranks either first or second in the world on the O.E.C.D. Program for International Student Assessment. The U.S. falls in the middle. She mentions that Finland doesn’t have standardized tests like NCLB but what they do have is a strong profession of educators by offering an even stronger and comprehensive five-year academic program to train their teachers. We lack the serious training needed to deal with all the challenges teachers face in today’s classrooms from children coming from different cultural backgrounds speaking many languages and with special needs.

If we want to succeed in today’s global market, we need to strengthen our teacher training programs, and allow their peers and superiors, as Dr. Ravitch calls them “master teachers” to judge the competency and effectiveness of teachers in the classrooms and not student scores on standardized tests. Instead, we’ve dropped the entrance standards to the teaching professional, so that now anyone can become a teacher without having completed a degree program dedicated to education and teaching methodology. If we’re looking for education reform, we can’t simply place the blame on the teachers.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.

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