Lawmakers Work to Fix NCLB
> 7/18/2007 11:45:28 AM

Amidst a virtual cacophony of teachers, representatives, governors, and interested citizens voicing opinions on the President's discussed and contested education plan, American lawmakers have made renewed attempts at reaching an unlikely consensus on exactly how to reform the program.

Even Massachusetts Senior Senator Edward Kennedy, the act's primary author and most tireless proponent, concedes that major changes are needed. Kennedy's primary complaints, which have remained consistent since the act's initiation, regard what he perceives to be underfunding from the federal government. Though spending on elementary secondary schools has increased under the current administration, Kennedy argues that more money is necessary in order to allow individual states to develop more efficient testing plans and devote additional funds and attention to low-scoring students without abandoning those who already score satisfactory marks. The president and his administration seem concerned with restricting increases in funding, but exactly how they plan to reach their all-encompassing goals without significantly higher rates of investment remains to be seen.

It's clear that, while universal testing standards for the nation would certainly help determine the general degree of readiness among American students and more easily pinpoint areas in need of improvement, the implementation of NCLB's various components must reside, at least in part, within the individual states. Performance patterns will differ sharply across the country, and the needs of our disparate geological areas must be customized to some degree. But this proposal creates an entirely new set of problems, largely due to the fact that the states are extremely concerned about how many of their districts will receive failing grades. Advocacy groups maintain that 23 states - a near majority - have either considered or already developed plans to move away from the law's influence and legal prerequisites. One plan would be to maintain a nationalized testing system while allowing states to design their responsive policies individually, but the matter of exactly how much leeway to allow must, unfortunately, be determined in Washington. At the present, no one quite knows what to do with schools that consistently fail or toe the line. For while the program offers alternatives such as free tutoring and relocation for students in poorly performing schools, almost none of those who qualify have taken advantage of these opportunities. And none of the hundreds of American schools falling behind have been shut down or reorganized.

Most also agree that the mechanisms for determining the relative success of students should be, in the words of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, "more nuanced"; greater flexibility allows for fair consideration of the endless variety on display in our student body. Students and institutions who remain below the official cutoff line despite marked improvements need not be punished. Of course, moving in this direction while maintaining the program's core principle of stringent institutional accountability is a difficult proposition. Each state could potentially enter lengthy, politically agitated debates about exactly how to appraise the achievements of its students. Reports have already surfaced accusing a disturbing percentage of states of lowering their testing standards or effectively cheating to avoid the punative judgements implied by federal oversight. The most dramatically obvious example of statistical inflation occurred in Mississipi, which registered the highest (self-reported) reading proficiency rate in the nation in 2005. The already questionable reliability of this amazing statistic (89% proficient)  was officially destroyed by the revelation that Mississippi's scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests were, in fact, the absolute lowest in the country. Can we then trust individual states to assess and report on their own degrees of success? A study by the non-profit Thomas B. Fordham Foundation stated that, while some collective scores have gone up, educational standards declined in nearly every state from 2000 to 2007, and that tide will hardly turned by NCLB.

The chorus line remains the same: despite No Child's admirable aspirations toward equality, its particulars and their implementation are deeply flawed. Among the most prominent complaints: it forces frustrated educators to "teach the test" in order to aviod sanctions or job cuts; it places every American student under an all-inclusive blanket, judging their successes and failures through insufficient universal statistics; it does not properly consider the issues raised by special-needs children; it forces teachers to pay less attention to high performing students; by focusing almost exclusively on reading and math, it eliminates a crucial emphasis on phys ed, social studies, science and the arts. The laundry list goes on. Indisputably true is the fact that, in the absence of fundamental changes, the plan runs the risk of all-out collapse. If this worst-case scenario comes to pass, it will most likely take years for another such comprehensive plan to emerge from the embattled education sectors of the American government. We cannot risk such a deadly freeze lest our student body fall even further into the academic abyss.

Detailed assessments of the developing international job market, following projected trends and international academic rankings, do not bode well for the United States. The oft-discussed and just as frequently maligned specter of "outsourcing" is not a fictitious entity, and with competitors like India and China rapidly moving closer to the 20th century academic and professional standards set by the United States, rising American generations will most likely see diminishing returns on their labor unless they are ready to compete in the incredibly competitive creative fields of business, technology and design. To that effect, some have opined that the act is little but an industrial-age approach to a digital issue: simply teaching students to learn the same material at the same speed, add numbers in line or read from a given page does nothing to improve their all-important ability to adapt and teach themselves by learning from the everyday examples of others. Testing should be designed to reflect curriculum, but the current equation seems to work from the very opposite premise: the purpose of instruction is to prepare for testing.

In summary, while the act's detractors "...say they share the goals of providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of race, economic background, or disability, many fear that the rules might undermine public education and send more students fleeing into private schools."

An unavoidable, repugnant possibility: this was the plan all along. In that case, the act has been inappropriately named. A more accurate title would be "Most Children Left Behind."

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy