The No Child Left Behind Act: Revision or Removal?
In search of an effective solution to properly measure academic achievement while educating the future of America.
For as long as we can remember, people have held the belief that a standard education in language, mathematics, and the sciences is the key foundation for becoming successful in life. Although this is still generally true, our current idea of what defines a proper education and how academic achievement should be measured across the United States is a great topic of debate. Throughout American history, many reforms have been made to our educational system, starting with Brown vs. Board of Education, moving on through the Elementary and Secondary Education and the Educate America acts, and ending with the No Child Left Behind Act. This act was signed into law by President Bush in 2002 and it requires that all states give assessments in basic skills to students if they want to receive federal funding for their public schools. The issue surrounding the NCLB is the debate about whether or not the standardized tests are an effective way of determining if a particular student or school is academically adequate. Although statistics have shown increased achievement in schools according to the given standards, many believe it is inhibiting critical, creative, and intellectual thinking, and that the act should be revised or completely replaced. Should the No Child Left Behind Act be revoked, or should we implement a new and improved measure to ensure academic success?
When children are learning and developing as intellectuals, they must have the freedom to explore every aspect of a subject. Yes, it is important to know that 2+2=4, but nowadays it is rare that students have the chance to make up their own ending to a story their teacher read, or take a dance class during school to challenge the creative side of their brain. Teachers all over the nation have formed unions against this act because they feel as though they are only getting the chance to “teach to the test” in order for their school to be considered “adequate,” and to receive funding.
John Bass, a fifth and sixth grade teacher from Lake Oswego, Oregon, has experienced the effects of this act in many ways. He is frustrated that he does not have as much time to do things like teach novels, explore stories in depth, or work on math problem solving. Instead, he is constantly wondering if a certain skill like where to place a semicolon, for example, is going to be on a standardized test. He has shifted his teaching from focusing on deeper understanding that can be readily transferred to similar problems, to a narrow subset of skills that will increase test performance. People need to engage with the reality that the mind wanders in many different ways, and realize that restricting a growing brain to only specific knowledge could possibly prevent one’s potential to be successful in what they are good at, and do something amazing in life.
The method of testing that is currently being used to determine academic adequacy is significantly flawed. Each state has the power to create their own standards and write their own tests. Because of this, many states have written tests that compensate for “inadequacy” so they can still receive funding. For example, a child who is at a 4th grade reading level at a particular Oregon school may be at 3rd grade reading level in another state. Oregon currently has one of the lowest set of expectations for a passing score in the nation, so when an 8th grader “passes” a reading test they are only reading at the 38th percentile nationwide, meaning they are hardly prepared for high school. This creates a large discrepancy, especially when it comes to competition for college entry. Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, believes we are lying to families when we tell them their children are meeting standards, when in reality, they are severely unprepared for higher learning, and are unlikely to receive a fulfilling education at a good university.
Bush and supporters of this act argue that it has done great things for our nation. Because some teachers and school districts do not always meet AYP standards, parents, especially those in low-income areas, have more flexibility to seek placement in different schools for their kids. Additionally, the achievement gap, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as “the difference in academic performance between different ethnic groups,” has seen a decrease since the NCLB was enacted. Although there has been a slight decrease, it is problematic because schools are now only seen as successful if they are able to close the achievement gap. If they are not, a restructure of the school is required, even if they do well overall.
Supporters of this act have argued that one cannot determine if a student is reading or writing at grade level without a test. If this is not the way to do it, then what is? The solution to this great debate is not to undermine and eliminate every aspect of the controversial act. Its desire to accomplish the goals of reaching academic proficiency and graduate all students is a nationwide aspiration; however, the manner in which we are going about doing this is under constant scrutiny. Our nation is not currently academically up to par, and there are many ideas for reform up in the air.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is increasing federal funds for education, and has given over 744 million dollars to Oregon alone. The Obama administration hopes this money will help modernize schools, prevent teacher layoffs, and make financial aid more available at the college level, which will ideally aid in creating new jobs and a more powerful workforce in the near future. A lack of money has never been the sole issue with this act, but hopefully it will be used effectively and help spur change. Poor readers passing the state test by guessing answers, or states that lower their standards in order to meet AYP are both factors that make a mockery of the assessment data idea. All states must have the same standards in order to create a more unified and constant mode to measure success. In the words of Arne Duncan, “We have to educate ourselves to a better economy,” and revising some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act to focus more on achieving a college level education is the only way to ensure this principle is upheld.