Friday, October 14, 2005

Another Bush Misfire: No Child Left Behind

Back in 2001 Pres. Bush pushed through his education program, which was one of his campaign promises. It is termed the No Child Left Behind Act and its goals are certainly laudable.

But it shows that Bush knows no more about education reform than he knows about foreign policy or disaster relief. The No Child Left Behind program, so highly touted in Bush’s reelection bid, is a miserable failure to date.

It seeks to hold schools accountable for the education they provide to their students. Well, that sounds good. Everybody needs to be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Teachers and administrators in the past may not have been held all that accountable for the education they were providing to the students in their charge.

So, again, the goal was fine. But in practice, the methods used to achieve that goal do not, and cannot work. Setting goals is easy; reaching them is the tough part.

The National Education Association says the law is “seriously flawed and under funded.” Like so many other federal programs, it forces the states to comply with federal mandates without providing adequate funding to the states to meet those requirements.

In addition, No Child Left Behind uses a classic cookie-cutter approach to solving our nation’s educational woes. The sad fact is, for every underachieving child we strive to push through the educational system, dozens of higher achieving children are placed at risk for failure.

Under the statute, we are sinking so much time, money, and effort into the low achievers that probably are going to end up with minimum-wage jobs anyway, that those whom we should rightfully expect to graduate and go on to post-secondary education are being underserved.

For example, in many schools, especially those in larger cities, up to one-third of the students in any given classroom are at risk. They are the learning disabled, emotionally handicapped, or slow learners that traditionally were placed in special education classes. Today, they are mixed together with the higher achievers and are termed inclusion students.

Teachers must spend a lot of extra time with these special students, watering down their curriculum just so they can pass. This is done at the expense of the mainstream students.

In addition, schools are now more than ever teaching to the test. In Indiana, the test is ISTEP. For weeks at the beginning of every school year students are drilled with mock standardized tests and taught nothing but what is likely to show up on the ISTEP.

Teachers used to be able provide content-based education. Now, they are forced to provide standards-based drill and practice lessons. All this is because the federal government expects every school to meet what’s known as their Adequate Yearly Progress.

The Great Lakes Center for Educational Research commissioned a study that indicates almost every school will eventually fail to reach the AYP within 10 years.

In Indiana, under the best case scenario, it is projected that 54 percent of schools will fail by 2014. Under a more realistic scenario, 80 to 85 percent of schools will fail. In Michigan, almost 100 percent of schools are predicted to fail.

The study provides some recommendations to help fix the situation and perhaps head off some of the gloomy predictions. Among them are:

- Dedicate adequate funding for remediation and social infrastructure, to overcome disparities and meet student educational needs.

- Create realistic, comprehensive school evaluation systems that involve a variety of evaluation methods.

- Set realistic standards linked to external expectations and grounded in research.

- Modify the standards and growth expectations for special education, and non-English speaking students.

The No Child Left Behind Act has become a teacher’s and administrator’s nightmare. If schools fail to meet their AYP long enough, the state steps in and takes over the school.

Every teacher and administrator must then reapply for their jobs. The atmosphere in many schools has become similar to what office workers go through when upper management calls in the headhunters. They fear for their jobs and they are helpless to do much about it.

The fact remains that not every child is going to be a success, no matter how much we wish it were so. And holding schools accountable for something that is beyond their control will ultimately lead to failure.

As the Great Lakes study suggested, it’s fail now or fail later. No Child Left Behind has become another Bush Administration misfire.

1 comment:

Kevin R. Kosar said...


I read your column with interest.

One portion struck me as a bit peculiar. You wrote,

"Teachers used to be able provide content-based education. Now, they are forced to provide standards-based drill and practice lessons."

I'm not sure how you can assert that content-based education and standards are antipodean. Standards *are* content, and tests are supposed to assess student knowledge of this content at particular performance levels.



Kevin R. Kosar
Author, Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards,