It has now been five years since this country implemented Pres. Bush’s education policy of No Child Left Behind. The goal of the program is for all children in all social classes, of every race and at every school to improve in the target areas of math and reading each year. All schools are to have reached their target goal by 2014.
So how have schools been doing over the last five years? Are they on their way to meeting that challenge? Are students showing adequate yearly progress, as the program mandates?
The Bush administration claims that the educational divide that exists between whites and minorities is closing and that students are beginning to improve in both targeted areas.
But a recent Harvard University study disagrees. Using the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress test, generally considered to be the most accurate indicator of student achievement, the Harvard study found absolutely no improvement in reading scores since 2001. There was some improvement in math scores, but the improvement was at the same rate as was occurring prior to 2001. So, again, the No Child Left Behind Act seems to have had little if any effect on improving students’ progress.
The latest Harvard study agrees with last year’s conclusions of the Great Lakes Center for Educational Research, which commissioned a study of states in the Great Lakes region. According to that study, anywhere between 55 percent and 85 percent of Indiana’s schools will fail to meet the adequate yearly progress goals of No Child Left Behind by 2014. As bad as those figures are, they are still better than the prediction for some other Midwestern states.
Currently, only 67 percent of high school students graduate. Only 50 percent of black and Hispanic students complete school. The No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to provide a nationwide set of standards for all students and, therefore, close the gap between whites and minorities. That is not happening.
There is nothing wrong with the goal. But the program suffers from poor implementation, inadequate funding, and an urealistic interpretation of educational processes. It puts far too much burden on teachers and administrators to control variables that are largely out of their reach.
All across the country students who come from poor families or from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods do far poorer on standardized tests than do students from middle class families in nicer neighborhoods.
Why this is so is debatable. There are probably many factors, not least of which is that schools in poorer neighborhoods are under funded and do not have the tools necessary to provide high quality educational experiences that schools in wealthier neighborhoods can provide.
But it is not only the schools that cannot do their jobs properly in poor neighborhoods. The parents and families in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods have different priorities. Some do not see the advantage to higher education. Others give lip service to a good education, but pragmatically do not give it a very high priority.
One of the goals of any national education policy should be to educate the families in economically deprived neighborhoods about the importance of education. Provide monetary incentives to families whose children excel in school. If money talks, it surely speaks louder to those who are most desperate for it.
Teachers cannot provide a solid education to students who are unwilling to learn. Most students are not eager to be taught, but those from good neighborhoods are at least willing. Children from poor neighborhoods are often not enthusiastic about learning and sometimes are actually averse to being taught. They see no need for it and some even actively vandalize the process so that even willing students cannot achieve.
Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy does not target the real causes behind a lack of education in America. Instead, it threatens punishment for schools and school districts that do not meet their annual yearly progress goals. School administrators, feeling the pressure, lean on teachers to do a better job of teaching.
The increased atmosphere of tension that permeates failing schools actually makes it more difficult for those schools to meet their educational goals. It becomes a self-perpetuating feedback loop that ultimately leads to exactly what the Harvard study has found. The No Child Left Behind Act is not working.
It cannot work. It, therefore, should be tossed aside and replaced by a policy arrived at by those who understand the inner workings of education and how social norms affect it.
Teachers, principals, and sociologists, not politicians, should be in charge of building our next national education initiative.