No Child Left Behind: Never Going To Happen
by Kris Spillman
Reforming the United States public education system is becoming a more prominent issue as the business world is starting to panic with statistics they are seeing from schools. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. high school graduation rate ranks sixteenth out of twenty. Business leaders are voicing their concerns that unless improvement is made the U.S. competitiveness in the global market will fall (Dunham 2). In 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind act to raise school’s standards and hold them accountable. By 2014, all schools should be 100% proficient in reading, writing, and math skills with no exceptions. If a school fails to meet its annual yearly progress, then it becomes subject to sanctions enforced by the federal government (Silberman 2). The No Child Left Behind Act could be a realistic program in a wealthy school system where there are not many underprivileged and handicapped children. The two main objectives of No Child Left Behind are to raise standards for schools, and to decrease the achievement gap between students that typically do well and students who typically do not perform well, such as minorities, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities. The goals of the program are good because they force schools to take notice of children who usually slide through the system or drop out. Although the No Child Left Behind act has good intentions, the implementation of the program makes the law an unrealistic way to improve the United States education system. The biggest problem with the No Child Left Behind act is that there is not enough money given to schools so that they can meet the federal standards. The basis for funding the No Child Left Behind Act is the Title I program that helps schools implement the law. Last year, a new funding formula was put in place to reward states “projected to have large increases in the number of low-income students relative to other states…appropriations were based on 2002 census numbers” (Smith 2). Even with the
Figure 1 The graph shows how big the funding problem is with Title I.
new formula, the information is now three years old and demographics could have changed. For example, in Kansas City, Kansas, they have experienced a decline in Title I money even though they have had an increase in the number of low-income students (Smith 2). In addition, this formula gives priority to low-income schools even if they are not marked as struggling to meet their expectations for that year. States will have to find other resources to help schools “that have been labeled in need of improvement” (McFarlane 2). Massachusetts reported only spending one percent of it’s Title I funds when it is required to spend four percent to help schools that have failed to meet standards for two years in a row. Overall, eleven states have lost money due to the new formula and this year it is expected to grow (McFarlane 2). Without appropriate funding, the No Child Left Behind Act is impossible to satisfy the national standards and proficiency goals.
Schools systems are now under “’one-size-fits-all accountability system’” (Hoff 1). Many states agree that the federal government has intruded on states rights by setting school’s accountability to a national standard. The National Conference of State Legislatures even argues that the law is unconstitutional because “the U.S. Constitution does not define a role for the federal government in K-12 education” (Hoff 4). The report made by the National Conference of State Legislatures makes specific requests that many feel should be changed about the No Child Left Behind Act. One idea that is prominent in the report is that states should be able to define school’s adequate yearly progress (Hoff 1). It is hard to understand how the federal government can measure every schools systems achievements based on standardized testing. Local governments know more about their school systems and what they could do to help schools improve their standards. In addition, it argues that states should be able to reward schools that they deem are making progress according to their own standards. Before the No Child Left Behind act, states had individual existing accountability systems. After the law was passed, they were forced to abandon these practices or conduct two different proficiency reports, which could produce conflicting results (Hoff 3). The law wants to prescribe a way for schools to cure their student achievement problems, but no two states are exactly alike and what works in one state may not work in another. By offering some flexibility with the law, Congress would help states in achieving goals in accordance with their individual needs. Another serious problem of the No Child Left Behind act is the punishments put in place for schools. After missing achievement goals for two years in a row, schools are forced to give students the option to transfer to other schools that have met their standards. If the school misses their goals for three years in a row, then the school is forced to provide tutoring programs (Silberman 2). These sanctions seem to be
Figure 2 Injustices forced upon schools as punishments due to the No Child Left Behind Act.
backwards for schools because they have to give students the option to leave before they are given the chance to improve. In addition, in Wake county schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, the transfer option has not worked the way it is supposed to. Silberman states, “the few students who chose to transfer were those who were already successful, not those who were struggling” (Silberman 2). From this example, one can gather that although the sanctions are ideal on paper, they will not work in all situations.
One goal of the No Child Left Behind act is to “ensure that every child has a highly qualified teacher” (Odland 2). The most common problem with finding “highly qualified teachers” is that schools that are considered in need of improvement or have high numbers of low-income students are having trouble getting teachers that are good enough to meet the standards to stay in those districts (Silberman 2). In the article “No High Schooler Left Behind” the author does mention that the Department of Education plans to provide funding for an incentive for teachers to work at low-income schools, but no one knows how long that will take and if the funds will ever be there to support such a program (Dunham/Symonds 2). Not only does the No Child Left Behind act make it harder to find qualified teachers, it also changes the aspect of teaching. The law forces teachers to teach to the test instead of teaching to the interest and needs of the students. The law takes the creativity out of being a teacher and damages the number of quality teachers left in this country. It also places stress in the classroom for teachers whose students are struggling to meet proficiency (Odland 2). With the No Child Left Behind act, motivated, qualified teachers are hard to come by, and with funding being as limited as it is, it is hard to provide appropriate training to get more teachers.
Figure 3 Under the No Child Left Behind act students are forced to take stressful standardized tests.
Standardized testing is an unfair basis for measuring a student’s achievements in the No Child Left Behind Act. Odland presents many reasons why standardized testing is a damaging and inappropriate way to measure a child’s achievement. As if children in today’s society do not have enough pressure on them already, standardized testing just increases the pressure to do well and sets them up for failure, which can lower their attitudes towards themselves. By holding children accountable to standardized tests, it discourages critical thinking skills required in secondary education. Basically, standardized testing lowers the standards for students to achieve while in school and encourages a getting by status instead of challenging themselves to a higher level of achievement.
Along with the many other problems, the law almost ignores students with disabilities and handicapped students, and students that learn English as their second language. All children learn in different ways and to try to measure their achievement and proficiency is inadequate. The law helps raise awareness of minority groups and holds school responsible for them, but it does not provide the resources to help these children keep up with the system and achieve proficiency (Silberman 2). Hoff, the author of “NCLB Law Needs Work, Legislators Assert” mentions that the report in his article says that states should be able to decide the goals for students with disabilities and limited English because the federal standard does not work for all school systems and causes them to miss their adequate yearly progress goals (Hoff 3-4).
The No Child Left Behind act is an ideal program in an imperfect world. The intentions of the law are good, and they do achieve their goal of raising awareness of minority groups in school systems. However, the law fails to provide the adequate resources including money, teachers, and basic support for the law. Without these things, the law cannot be effective unless everyone involved is willing to cooperate. The goal of the entire country being one hundred percent proficient is unrealistic, and unless major reforms take place it will not be achieved.