« Can Technology Transform Schools? | Main | Schools and Teacher Effectiveness »

No Child Left Behind: Unsalvageable?

| 43 Comments

Discussion of the No Child Left Behind Act's reauthorization often revolves around ensuring appropriate levels of federal funding and tweaking the law without changing its basic provisions.

But in this Education Week commentary, Eric Schaps argues that the law is fatally flawed because its "unrealistic goals"—such as requiring all students to meet a uniform level of proficiency and eliminating, rather than reducing, the achievement gap between racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups—set schools up for failure.

Lawmakers should scrap NCLB, he writes, and "we should return to being guided less by federal policymakers and more by local stakeholders."

What do you think? Does the federal role in education need rethinking? Can the No Child Left Behind Act be salvaged?

43 Comments

I recently cent the following letter to the Sachem School District in NY. Can something be done ?
We spoke back in March, I am writing to you in reference to the fall 2007 kindergarten registration. For many years the Sachem School District made exceptions for other children to enter the school year past the deadline. The district has allowed children to register whose ages were past the December 1st deadline.

Your comments to me, were “You have another avenue, you can send your child to private kindergarten, and then admission be allowed in September 2008 to first grade. I already pay astronomical amounts of money in taxes to the district and now I am told I have to pay an approximate $10,000 for private kindergarten. These avenues you mentioned are not available. When we voted for full day kindergarten for the Sachem School district the private programs were eliminated.My child has attended 2 years of pre-school. In 2006 my child completed participation in the “Stony Brook Temperament Study” conducted by the Stony Brook University Department of Psychology. The study required participation in a series of psychological evaluations conducted throughout the year. Academically and emotionally my child meets the same requirements as the 4 year old children that will attend in September 2007.

From September 2007 up until December 1st children 4 years old will be permitted to attend kindergarten. After December 1st they must be 5 years old. For (9) school days in the middle of the year my child will not be age 5. At age 4 my child is being denied the right to attend the school with other 4 year olds.

The districts evaluation which takes place in June would have shown both academically and emotionally that my child qualifies to enter school in September 2007. I did not expect to have a problem prior to an evaluation.

My child is being denied the opportunity to enter into kindergarten when others in the same situation have been allowed. My request was to have my child evaluated, but I am being told the process of elimination is by age not by academics.

The district is not setting rules that allow for equal treatment of all children of age 4 and 5. They are clearly stating a child of age 4 can attend kindergarten and continue until they turn age 5. My child will not advance properly if the opportunity to attend kindergarten in September 2007 is taken away. I am requesting a fair evaluation of my child for entry to kindergarten September 2007. You told me then “you can send a formal request, but you are wasting your energy”. Every child is entitled to an education.

Finally! Someone who sees the real issues! I've been trying to contact as many people as possible who will be involved in making these revisions to get them to address these issues. All anyone wants to talk about is the lack of funding. That's the least of the problems with NCLB!
As a music teacher, I can see the rest of the school (teachers, administrators, district) becoming so tunnel-visioned, focused on testing, testing, testing! I regularly have kids miss music because they need to "catch up" on something so they'll be ready for the test.
As a parent of 2 special needs children, I've had numerous arguments with the school district I'm in regarding the recent changes in special education. The answer is always the same - "We have to do it this way because of NCLB."
I agree with every point you made. But how do we get this message to the legislators who will be discussing this bill? How can we get them to see these points? Thank you for your article. Who else can I contact?

Local school officials are the ones primarily responsible for the deplorable conditions of our public schools prior to education reform. State officials have done a commendable job putting our schools on the right track but we simply cannot have fifty different sets of standards from fifty different state departments of education. That's been demonstrated quite clearly over the past several years when you compare state test results with NAEP, or the nation's report card. There are too many states too willing to prostitute the process to make their schools/students look good. We desperately need national standards with a corresponding national assessment so parents and taxpayers can rest assured our schools are doing the job correctly.

I have two basic problems with Shap's argument:

1. It is essentially racist and prejudiced to assume that all students cannot achieve a common standard. In essence, he asks us to simply accept the higher performance of White rich students and not challenge the lower performance of students of color who are poor. Who are we as a nation if we cannot expect every student to succeed, regardless of race, economics, and other factors.

2. There is proof that schools can succeed in closing their achievement gaps. In my own work, I have visited these schools. They do not "teach to the test," they "teach what is tested." The students are engaged in a variety of subjects and self-directed in their learning. The teachers use authentic assessments to guide their teaching so that when the standardized test arrives, the students perform highly since they know the material--not just the test.

As I work with educators across the nation, I am constantly disturbed by the persistent belief that achievement gaps cannot be closed. Who are we as educators if we ultimately do not believe in what we profess we are trying to achieve? Our students depend on us to successfully teach every one of them and bring each of them to an acceptable level of proficiency. They deserve nothing less.

What I find most interesting in most discussions of this sort is the unusual amount of attention that is paid to the "means" of the stated NCLB goals, and the apparent lack of attention to the absurdity of its "ends." Its overarching goal is to have all 3rd grade children "proficient" in Math and English by the academic year 2013-2014; in other words, perfection is achievable as long as we "teach what is tested," in the words of Mr. Linton.

As an former educator of students in the disaggregated subgroup of ELLs (and now as a staff developer) , I know a bit about the variety of educational backgrounds of students who arrive in our schools only knowing a language other than English. I also know what the research says about second language acquisition in terms of the time it takes to speak, read and write in English. I also am highly aware of the geographical transiency and economic disadvantages with which their parents contend. Overlooking such factors borders on insanity, and thinking that repeated drilling and skilling them (individually or in groups) simply on the items that will be tested will lead to "success" or "proficiency" is manifest evidence of this approach's disconnect with reality.

The simple fact remains that the outspoken corporate and governmental advocates of the current "data driven" approach are themselves products of an educational system that lacked such repetitive testing measures when they attended school (whether public or private).

Historically, the most outstanding contribution of schools in the 60's and 70's was the emphasis on encouraging creativity and innovation that has apparently resulted in our nation's continued primacy in the areas of technology and business. Apparently, this is also one of the greatest "pull" factors in our immigration patterns - the reputation that the U.S. has for its educational system and the resultant opportunities for upward mobility. There seems to be a great irony in this!

When we find what Bill Gates (a rather famous college drop-out) opines about education more important than what teachers and educators have to say, there is something basically wrong with the direction of the country in addressing the real issues that are at the base of this "reform."

This is not to say that standards should be abandoned, or that the "achievement gap" cannot be narrowed - but one must simply be mindful of the larger context of the society. Not everyone wants to run Microsoft, and not all communities (and the schools within them) are created equal.

To completely close the gap created by such socioeconomic factors, then there must be a new way of funding schools to ensure that all children are provided with an equal playing field from Day One (in all 50 states). It is only then that successful outcomes for each child's creative mind in our care can occur.

Requiring schools to test students repeatedly to "prove inequality" in such matters adds nothing to the fundamental changes that would be required to transform the public educational system. Indeed, given the current sanctions that NCLB invokes for "failing schools," the outcome of such measures only insures the increasing privatization of the entire educational landscape.

Perhaps there is a larger agenda at work here that the creators of "standards movement" ever realized back in 1989, when the head of IBM and his corporate partners first sat down with the USDOE and envisioned a "one size fits all" educational future.

As an educator, I have taught in the public school system for a while. NCLB is virtually dangling an unreachable object in front of educators and students. Standards driven instruction has its place, and I think we should all have attainable, uniform standards for our students as a nation. However, placing to much emphasis on scores and data is stifling the curriculum for teachers and students.

Data is important, and it can be used to instruct and differentiate. But, it should end at that. Teachers and administrators shouldn't have to sweat it out because we didn't make AYP every year. Soon no one is going to make AYP. Are they going to fire us all? I don't get paid enough to care in South Carolina. I teach because I want my students to learn life lessons that can use in the real world. I want them the be successful, and creative but I will not sacrifice my curriculum to NCLB. It is mostly the insane effort to reach an unattainable goal. There is a better way, and we should find it soon. Otherwise we are going to have an educational system that not only fails its students, but collapses completely.

The spirit of NCLB is the salient idea that we, as parents & teachers, ought to be focused. The idea is that all children are born inherently equal; therefore, all children should be taught with equal respect and equal aspirations. NCLB is really more about the teachers, their beliefs, and their appitudes for teaching. A good teacher believes that all children can learn and will find ways to help all of her children grow, not just the ones who arrive on her doorstep already well-educated. The mark of a good teacher is one that inspires all of her students to achieve as opposed to those who only concentrate their efforts on the children they deem worthy. The mark of a lousy teacher is one that bemoans that it is impossible. It is impossible to know the extent to which a student can learn and achieve, but lousy teachers apparently presume that they can. In spirit, the NCLB Act is worth its weight in gold. In practice, the worth of NCLB varies depending upon the particular teachers involved in its implementation.
In reality, a factory approach to education is by far not the best method available to educate our youth. It is an outdated concept that needs to be rid of, and teachers are in a key position to do just that. Many teachers profess that learning and teaching are best when done in an authentic fashion. Well, it's time for teachers to jump head first and teach ways they believe to be best. Forget the tests as the narrow focus is misguided at best; instead, focus on "real" ways of knowing and learning, inspire all of your students, provide additional accommodations rather than modifications, unless a student is severly disabled, and students will in fact achieve proficiency, hands-down. Don't discriminate based on race or socio-economic status. All can achieve, and all will achieve if held to high standards, i.e. given a chance. Truly caring, innovative teachers will give life to the spirit of the NCLB Act, and the need for such legislation will fade away.

NCLB is the greatest acheivement of the Bush Administration. It realized that many local and state school districts were not teaching to high standards,were using social promotion policies and not addressing the low achievement of their disadvantaged student populations with a sense of urgency.The evidence was plain in the poor performance of students throughout the country,particularly in urban areas, on local,state and national assessments. NCLB has provided a system of accountability for monitoring and improving the education of our students.

No Child Left Behind, No Teacher Left Standing lacks any sense. Take a look at the type of common sense, practical techniques teachers could learn and use if they weren't overwhelmed by testing mania. That includes learning about school safety, student mental health, motivating students and more. Check out these examples of how to better use teachers' time: click here, and click here for examples.

The first respondant made clear that birthdate,
and only birthdate, is considered for entrance to
school (I had the exact same experience with my
kids - private schools are no more likely to
consider readiness). NCLB makes clear that test
scores, and only test scores, are considered
for 'success' of students and teachers alike.

Young children learn exceptionally well, and when
we teach them that birthdates and test scores
matter more than creativity, problem-solving, and
analytical thinking, that's exactly what they
learn.

It is difficult to talk about NCLB because it seems so incredibly stupid to me. I just can't believe that this law was passed with bipartisan support. What were people thinking? I feel like Alice in Wonderland trying to think of a sensible response to the Queen's craziness. Where does one start?

The first thing I'd like to say is that the low-achieving children in my first grade class are every bit as intelligent as my own sons were at the same age. I DO believe in their potential and I DO believe that they can succeed as well as their privileged counterparts. However, we all know that life is unfair. If I suddenly lose my hearing, that might affect my learning. If for some reason I became homeless or unable to get enough food for survival, I might stop reading Education Week and novels. I might start to fall behind other adults of my age and educational level.

Well, children are people too. When their basic needs are not met, they naturally fall behind their priviliged counterparts. This has little to do with ability and much to do with opportunity and luck. A child who goes home to five hours of TV and untreated ear infections is simply not going to do as well as the healthy child who goes home to conversation and bedtime stories. There IS a solution, but that solution must address the ear infections and the five hours of TV each night.

As for those people who say that "it has been done" all I can say to that is that in my many years of teaching, I have NEVER seen a single example of an impoverished school doing as well (or nearly as well) as an affluent one. Every time I hear of such a school, I do a little research and find out that there is a misrepresentation similar to that of the Texas "miracle." It's no coincidence that NCLB was founded on the basis of a giant fraud.

If the government is truly interested in closing the education gap, it will provide all children with the necessities that contribute to a good education: healthcare, quality experiences outside of school, and schools that possess the same resources that affluent schools offer (Duh!) And yes, it will cost money.

It was amazing that the No Child Left Behind Bill DID pass in 200, and with strong bi-partisan support. It is even more amazing that the same nonsense is being seriously discussed for reauthorization again. NCLB not only sets impossible goals (100% proficiency is simply not possible), the act was supposed to be supported by scientific research, seeking the best methods. This has not happened, the research hasn't been there and, what is there does not support the Act. Noone is being held accountable and education has not been reformed in any measureable, or concrete way.
It is time for politicians to do what politicians do and leave education to the educators. To all those who moan about the achievement gap. There is no such thing. It simply does not exist. Test score statistics do not prove that any such thing exists and the real racists are those that attribute poor achievement to any random group based on imagined differences between human beings. There is disparity of opportunity and facilities in our public school system, but this is not going to be reformed by creating statistical mirages like the achievement gap.

At the top of the list someone started out with the argument: "I recently cent the following letter" ... umm c'mon d'ya mean 50cent ... or was it that you sent a letter.

The parts of NCLB that endorse ever more standardised test development/administration are a huge waste of money and effort. These tests are as good as the worst writers and validators on the development team! However, the usually ignored provision that gives a deadline for every child having a teacher who is highly competent in the subject being taught is common sense. During my career, the most egregious abuse of education of children involved assigning teachers who had zero subject major/minor/concentration for subjects taught. Imagine a multi-degreed science teacher, certified in all sciences through high school being assigned(condition-of-employement) to teach, get ready, Language Arts Writing to middle school youngsters. All the worst jokes about engineers writing poetry and prose materialized during this period of shame. Some others were similarly assigned, out-of-competence, to teach...sigh...READING!

Perhaps vigorous application of NCLB teacher competence standards can help prevent this.

No Child Left Behind poses an interesting question--is there a level of "proficiency" that can be guaranteed to (almost) every child at predetermined milestones in their life? (the "almost" reflects the reality that we have already provided exemptions, accommodations and different expectations for students with cognitive disabilities and English Language Learners) In other words, can we set a floor that is measurable in terms of outcomes?

It is astonishing that this piece of legislation received bipartisan support, because it is so revolutionary. It speaks plainly to inclusive and egalitarian outcomes--foreign territory for the right, and incorporates a level of privatization that the left seldom endorses. I'm not much of an idealist when it comes to the things that come from Washington or from a Republican administration, but I would personally rather go down swinging than to admit defeat without a trial, particularly when the defeat will settle on the heads of those who always get the least and the worst.

In order to succeed (or even to go down swinging), we are going to have to get serious about how much we want to be a land of opportunity for all. Yes, poverty brings in personal factors that are not supportive--but improverished schools exacerbate them. Where teachers BELIEVE that all their kids watch 5 hours of TV per night, eat bad food and go unsupervised by crack dealing parents, they are not likely to have very high expectations. The teachers in those schools are not only more likely to be young and inexperienced, but also more likely to have had low SAT scores entering into college. Anyone who thinks it isn't so should suggest swapping students (or teachers) between suburban and inner-city districts and listen to the uproar. Our unwillingness to give up the automatic advantage given to some kids is something we will have to face in order to change.

Along with this, we will have to get real honest about which improvements are working and which are not (measuring the impact of tutoring programs--the first "sanction"--and honest evaluation of reading programs, along with daring to look at teacher resumes and what goes on in classrooms). We will have to stop talking about the hideous "sanctions" (has there been a single teacher anywhere in the United States that has lost a job because their students performed poorly on a test?). We will also have to stop "teaching to the test" wherever that means practice in bubbling in answers and review (assuming the content was successfully taught to begin with) of test-like questions.

Personally, I am bored with NCLB being blamed for everything from the war in Iraq to whoever lost the Superbowl. NCLB is no more likely to produce a nation of proficient standardized test-takers than sphygmomanometers (blood pressure gizmos) have produced a nation of transcendental meditators. That doesn't make them useless.

Is there room for improvement in American education? Plenty--by almost any measure or sense that one could employ (funny as much as we hear about how a test doesn't measure everything, I hear very little about what the other measures are and how we know they are valuable). Will it take more than schools and teachers to bring it about? Absolutely (many of the countries smoking us on international comparisons are highly socialized and have strong connections between schools and health care, mental health, public housing, etc). Will throwing out the goals and measures help us to get us there? Not likely.

NCLB is a remarkably controversial issue, considering the near unanaminity with which it was passed. We MUST be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Real change is generally good. There is room, plenty of room, for better texts, better adio visual aids and oother such tool. Childhood nutrition, in fact human nutrition can be vastly improved. Television is not an evil enemy, sucking the intelligence from our brains. It is a device, like many others, that can bre used to inform and to entertain. The whole concept of television, in fact took up two weeks of a science lesson, and could take up much more.
The biggest problem with NCLB is that it concentrates on what "cannot be accomplished" rather than looking for what can be accomplished. There is a sad assumption that somehow there is a plateau which , if reached is a mark of learning. Learning is ongoing. The more we kearn, the more we want to learn. Answers to simple questions lead to more complex questions and it continues. There are no tests to measure real learning. It is a quality that cannot be measured by a score, or set as a benchmark.

I would like to acknowledge school administrators, teachers, students and parents for the commendable job they have done in coping with the NCLB Act and the outrageous accountability standards set. They could all be quite insane by now, if they took this law as a holy document. This law has done more harm than good to the teaching profession, and has limited the learning taking place in our schools.

Standards are only as good as the standards written, and limiting diversity is very distructive to education at all levels. If the teacher in first grade, teaches her class to read ten sentences and that is the standard, then with much drill,they might score high on the test, but what did she not teach to get that kind of result on the test. Standards can be a narrowing of the teaching, so we should not kid ourselves that these tests mean more than do. The one concept that we can feel good about is that students are as capable as ever to learn. Now let's just give teachers the freedom to inspire students and not force teachers to hit kids over the head with books in order to teach them. Lets not force administrators to hit teachers over the head to teach. Let's not let the governornment hit administrators over the head to force them to force teachers to force children to learn. Force is not the answer. Anxiety is the result of force, and what is the anxiety level in education now? HIGH, very HIGH. The NCLB Act must not continue.
Write your Congress!

It seems like there is not an overabundance of commentary about the teacher qualifications section of NCLB. I guess my administrator was correct when, after my school assigned teachers with ZERO certification in certain subjects to TEACH those subjects, and I complained to him about the wrongness of this practice, he said words to the effect of: 'the order to do this comes from central administration and, besides, who will notice the difference.' I'm beginning to realize that he was a wise person and that I, after 30+ years teaching my subject, and 3 degrees in my field still had much to learn about how the "game" of public schooling was played.

I've been teacing twelve years and I think Mr. Schaps is definitely on target with his comments. Expecting all students to attain the same goal is comaprable to putting all specis of animals together and expecting them to perform the same. The monkey will instinclively climb a tree. Personally, I wouldn't WANT an elephant in a tree. Many other countries have better test results than the U.S. because they track their students. Those students with lower mental aptitudes aren't counted. They are tracked into manual labor jobs. This year, as a grade level team, 98% of all our students passed all three high stakes testing tests. Were we commneded and allowed to celebrate our achievement? No! Instead we were told it wasn't good enough. Not only did we need 100%, but we needed each student to achieve higher scores when passing. I can understand that the district is placing pressure on the administrators, but we should have been allowed to celebrate this year's achievements before discussing next year's scores. And the system wonders why a huge percentage of teachers are on antanxiety medication. Ask most people in the trenches and they'll tell you that NCLB is a huge failure. At least those who aren't afraid of losing their jobs will tell you.

All children are robots. Isn't that what legislators think? Or do they think? All children think differently. All children develop at different rates. Some children who are 8 perform like 6 year olds. Some perform like 12 year olds. All students are individuals. Testing should be for diagnostic reasons, only. Not all schools receive equal funding. There was an article in my local newspaper that the state of Ohio is going to give schools who are exceeding expectations MORE MONEY. It seems to me that they have it all wrong. What about the schools who are struggling with children in poverty and environmental distress? Teachers may no longer teach with enjoyment because administrators are ALWAYS asking if we are going to get that subgroup to pass. Short of a brain transplant, teachers do the best they can with the raw material that they work with each day. Legislators need to wake up and come into the classroom for nine months and see for themselves. Children are not allowed to have a childhood. Recesses have been eliminated to make room for more instruction. Behaviors are getting worse among students. Is it no wonder???

I have long wondered how reality could elude a national policy for educating our nation's children. While the concept of all children being able to learn is not problematic, the idea that all children learn the same things at the same rate could not be backed by research. If such were true, there would not be a need for special education of our students who struggle or students who excel. Although the authors may wish to homogenize a diverse group, the fact remains that the student group is not all the same. Applying the same standard to a diverse population would imply a bad fit of curriculum to the learner. Would this make for a great national policy?
I must admit that I am strongly in favor of accountabiity in the classroom. However, I again have had long-standing doubts that NCLB performs this function in a fair manner. Growth models of
ALL learners would provide a more accurate measurement tool by excluding the factor of SES
from the equation. It is disadvantageous to the gifted learner to have the bar set at such a low standard as basic proficiency as it may demand no growth from these students. Instead, it can turn a school into a warehouse for these children.
It is of little wonder that the country's best and brightest stagnate while the nation turns its back on them while leaving no child behind.

"To all those who moan about the achievement gap. There is no such thing. It simply does not exist. Test score statistics do not prove that any such thing exists..." This statement comes from a teacher? Why the denial? Are all these African-American and Hispanic students actually performing up to par with their White and Asian counterparts? How is it the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times have not heard about this profound story and printed it?

I hope all of you that are writing so eloquently on this blog are also sending your VOICE to Ted Kennedy and George Miller, and others in Congress. It is only when enough voices are raised will this dreadful law be changed for the good of public education and most of all our children. It is truly sad that some of your children are fighting a war in Iraq, our kids here at home need our support now, as what is happening to them under this law is, for the very young ones, sometimes abusive. Parents and teachers must not be silent. Asking a first grade boy to sit quietly for two hours doing math papers because the next day there will be a test is very harmful to that child and his ability to want to learn. Write your Congressmen!

It is very important, in these discussions, to be informed and truthful about what the law requires, how it is enacted at the state level, and how schools and teachers have chosen to respond. I agree with Deanna Enos that asking a first grade boy to sit quietly for two hours doing math papers because the next day there will be a test is not only harmful but, pardon the expression, stupid.

Yet, No Child Left Behind does not have any testing provisions at the first grade--it does require testing in reading and mathematics in the third through eighth grades. Possibly the first grade test is a state requirement, a district requirement, or a teacher requirement. In any case, if the classroom content and pedagogy are not preparing that child for whatever test he faces tomorrow (and testing has been present in schools at ALL grade levels as long as there have been schools, I'll wager), it is unlikely that a two hour "cram session" will be of much assistance.

Is it possible that the real agenda behind the anti-No Child Left Behind agitation is that we were much more comfortable before we had any cause to question what was going on in classrooms, and why some are so much more successful in responding to the needs of their students than others? We shouldn't be comfortable knowing that some children, as early as first grade, are getting way ahead of others--and that these kids tend to be whiter and more well off.

NCLB is a business based, quality product model that does not allow for individual differences and multiple variables. The theory that all we have to do is find the right production method and we will efficiently produce a quality product that meets our needs is male bovine manure. These are children. As for the statements made by business that are students are not employable, what I hear is that they don't want to do the training and/or pay the wages when they can go to another country and get the same for less. NCLB started out as a plan for equity (Clinton) and the present administration has turned it into a way to end funding for public schools in favor of privately run institutions.

I like some of the accountability parts of NCLB, but I don't feel that Special Education students were taken into consideration. Some of these students, with effective teachers, hard work, and school system support will be "on grade level" in 2014. I have worked with severe/profound students, and have a TBI son. Neither these students nor my son will be "on grade level" by 2014. Some days it's all we can do just to get them to learn basic life skills. The schools and teachers should not be held accountable as harshly as the regular education teachers. Special Education students' needs need to be accounted for before they are held as accountable as regular education students.

Margo asks some legitimate questions so I will try to answer them to the best of my ability. First, I'd like to say a little about myself. I will be retiring from teaching after 42 years as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist. I started teaching in an affluent suburb but wanted to teach where I could really make a difference, so I applied for a position in an "inner-city" school. This was during the civil rights movement and Vietnam War so I probably thought I was doing my part for society. After a while, though, I enjoyed doing it for myself. I found teaching poor children extremely fulfilling. As one principal put it, "We are an oasis for our students."

I quickly learned that I had to be a really good reading teacher because many of my fourth grade students were totally illiterate. So I spent two full years (in residence)at a university earning an advanced degree in developmental reading.

As the years went by I became very adept at teaching at-risk children. I took great pride in getting almost every first-grader up to grade level. I'd visit the affluent school in my neighborhood to make sure my standards were sufficiently high. Mentally, I'd always ask myself, "How many of my students could go to Affluent Elementary and fit in?" The best compliment I ever got was from a teacher who said this of me, "Linda can teach a rock how to read." Most important, I always made sure my classroom was a joyful place.

When I became a mother I saw how critical my husband and I were to our sons' education. I set my sights on Harvard and Stanford and that's where they both went. No one ever accused me of "low expectations" for my sons or my students. When I did something for my sons, I tried to do the same for my "children at school." If I couldn't take them to see the Nutcracker Ballet in person, then I purchased a video to share with them. I worked very hard (and spent lots of money to keep my classroom well-supplied; about $4000 a year)but I gained great satisfaction too. Parents were always very grateful and children said, "I love you" daily. Not too many people get that kind of affirmation at work.

Then came NCLB. The pressure on my school to get high test scores was so high that administrators started transferring the pressure to us. It would take too much time to enumerate the adverse effects this law has had on my teaching, but suffice it to say I am no longer free to teach in the best way possible. I can't use my professional judgment as I have done in the past. To put it as succinctly as I can, the law has forced me to become less than I'm capable of being. It has had the opposite effect that it was intended to have. To give a specific example, the principal tried to "write me up" for showing the Nutcraker Ballet, even though I was planning to take my students to a live performance the following week! Yes, I did complain (successfully) to the superintendent, but any teacher reading this blog knows how unpleasant this can be. With my age and hypertension, it is too risky to fight the principal and so I have just given in to assigning paper/pencil work for most of the day. This is what she wants to see. My classroom is no longer "joyful" but fits the age-old stereotype of little children toiling away at book work for six hours a day.

I am sorry to say that I am ending my career as a mediocre teacher even though I'm still capable of being an excellent one. I hate NCLB because it has narrowed the curriculum for my students and forced me to teach in a way that that is less than satisfactory. Make no mistake about it, NCLB has NOT improved student achievement. Soon, as more and more older children drop out of school and more talented teachers transfer to the suburbs, we'll begin to see the disasterous results of this poorly conceived and executed law.


The Elementary & Secondary Education Act is given political names by presidents. NCLB is Bush's political name for it. (I've forgotten Clinton's.) Is there any concrete difference? For example are any policies & programs that were created in Bush's administration only in "the NCLB portion" of ESEA?

If not, how and which federal programs continue under ESEA if the act is not reauthorized this year?

Thirdly, will funding for S.E.S. tutoring (Supplemental Educational Services) continue without ESEA reauthorization?

Thank you.

Because I always see many of the same points being raised in these type of responses, let me see if I can respond to them in a general sense.

1. If we as educators spent as much time, energy and resources seeking and implementing innovative educational change as we do complaining about the injustices of NCLB, I have no doubt we would see spectacular results and have less to be concerned about.

2. If one ethnically diverse and socio-economically challenged school can demonstrate success in reaching their targets, most can. Will it require radical changes...absolutely. But it can be done.

3. We complain because we have to "teach to the test," and that limits our creativity. Huh? How about we direct that creativity at presenting the curriculum (which already contains the standards our students are expected to master) in creative ways. If we successfully teach the standards, maybe we wouldn't be so worried about the boogie-man assessments.

4. No, we can't control what goes on outside the school. We can't control the home environment. We can't control the primary language spoken in the home. We can't control parental focus on education (or the lack thereof). So, what are we to do? Get over it. Do the absolute best we can with the time and influence we do have. As I stated before, if it can be done successfully in one place, it can be done in another. It just requires creativity and change.

5. In today's global society, there are some things people just flat need to know in order to become self-sufficient members of the world. Is it possible to teach those things while engendering a love of learning? I believe so. It's all in how it is presented.

6. If the students continually hear (or read about) us complaining about the inequities and unwarranted, futile demands of standardized testing, not to mention how high the stakes are, what will be their natural response?

Is NCLB perfect? No, not much is. Can it be improved? Absolutely! But let's not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Instead, let's exercise our creativity and focus our energies on seeking solutions that narrow the gaps between haves and have-nots, teach every child, at a bare minimum, what they need to know to be good, responsible people and productive members of society. Above all, let's stop the whining.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” – Albert Einstein


NCLB is unattainable for those not willing to make the effort. As a veteran teacher, I have seen concentration of energies and resources directed toward one group of students while completely ignoring another. While NCLB is not perfect, it emphasizes that ALL students, including those with special needs, have a right to a quality education.

Though I do think testing is not the best avenue necessarily to determine progress, it is the most expedient at present. Contrary to one writer's statement, NCLB does not require students to perform at the same level of proficiency. It does require, however, that all students meet minimum level. A set standard is most appropriate, I think, and would like to see one set on a national basis as it can presently differ from state to state.

The accountability aspect of NCLB Act is good and likely to help all the stake-holders focus on the set goals in the education of our youngsters. I rather have problem with the high standard/emphasis placed on test results as the only parameter to determine growth. Also, the Act did not take into account the peculiarities of American public schools - diversity, students' transfers and relocation, attidudes toward school/learning, class size, etc.
I would not recommend that the NCLB Act be scraped. It needs to be reviewed with a view to identifing the likely barriers that may hinder its implementation and success.

I am so angry and sad to see that many of my special ed students are "too high functioning" to go to a career development or occupational training center that can lead to meaningful employment. Instead, they take tests that they cannot possibly pass and call each other "retarded". Many of them have serious behavior problems. Wouldn't you if you spent the day being reminded that you are a failure? But still WE choose to keep our blinders on and make believe they are going to college. (We won't leave you behind!) Yes...many students were not allowed to thrive in the mainstream and should not have remained in a self contained class, but for many "least restrictive environment" IS a self contained program with alternative assessment. What's wrong with a trade school or vocational program? Aren't we all gifted in many ways? I have seen extremely artistic, creative students who cannot read past 2nd grade level or remember the month of the year. Why should they be forced to take tests that they can't possibly pass? This is a terrible situation for them!!! Imagine being required to take an exam in a language that you don't understand. As a teacher in an urban school district, I know that our children will not be left behind if we devote time, resources and social services into the communities in which these kids live. We also need to get businesses to invest in their future employees and possible CEO's. These kids have too much going against them. We need to unlock their sometimes hidden abilities-not ignore their unique needs and deny them their right to a fair education.

The federal role in education need rethinking, because the No Child Left Behind Act is causing many of our students with disabilities to be left behind. Many students are not being placed in the "Least restrictive environment," because of the various 'States' inability to cmploy enough instructional staff members. Further, many states' Department of Education do not know how to administer the goals and objectives of the NCLB law.

I must reiterate my earlier caution that we be very careful about what we attribute to No Child Left Behind--particularly as it has become such a good scapegoat.

Maria--No Child Left Behind does not negate vocational training. Those who work in vocational ed or career-tech will tell you, however, that students preparing for meaningful employment after high school need the same level of rigor at the high school level as those who are college-bound.

No Child Left Behind has also not made a change in the need for a full range of Least Restrictive Environment. However, when those students with disabilities OTHER THAN cognitive must be allowed access to the same content, and participate in testing, which school accountability, schools have discovered an important motivation for doing things that IDEA has required for some time (still doesn't mean it's happening--and I could quote you chapter and verse from my own district and child).

I have probably given the impression that I don't want NCLB renewed, but that is not the case. There are two things I like about this law: the emphasis on helping ALL children to succeed and the requirement of a fully qualified teacher in every classroom. For many years, every time there was a teacher shortage, anyone with "a heartbeat and a degree" would "qualify" for an emergency credential and sent to urban schools. Hopefully, that will never happen again.

That said, I really want to see big changes in this law. Mainly I want to see fair testing practices (progress over time) and additional resources for at-risk children. I can probably explain things better if I think of the children who are in my class right now and falling behind:

"Rene." Rene has good intelligence but when his family went to Mexico in December, he stayed until March. What I would like for Rene is a social worker who could visit his home and talk to his parents about the importance of school. Rene would also benefit from tutoring during the school day and an enriched after-school program. Summer camp with an academic component would be helpful too.

"Homer." Homer is a sweet boy with a severe language delay. His older sister had one too and ended up in Special Day Class. I believe Homer could do so much better if he had speech and language therapy on a daily basis. Two hours a week is not enough for him. Also, the speech teacher advised me that Homer's mother does not appear to interact with him. So a social worker would be helpful to him also. Since his mother is unable to get him to an intervention class before or after school, he would benefit from very small group instruction during the day. Homer has a younger brother who would probably profit enormously from high-quality preschool.

"Carla." Carla seems bright but she has chronic and severe health problems. Her immigrant parents are loving but cannot provide the specialists that Carla needs. Carla would be helped by healthcare and a doctor who could visit her at school.

"Frankie." Frankie is non-English speaking. He is a bright child but needs proper instruction. Frankie would benefit from a bilingual teacher, appropriate materials and small group instruction. I could bring Frankie up to grade level if I just had more time with him. When I am instructing the whole class, I know that Frankie is often lost.

So yes, at-risk children CAN learn and the gap CAN be closed but appropriate interventions are required. Test prep, and recycled strategies will not help a child with health or language problems. I can't imagine why anyone would expect a chronically ill child who goes home to hours of TV (Parents and children tell me that they watch it from 3:00 until bedtime) to do as well as the healthy child who goes home to conversation, piano lessons and stories. The great inequities that exist are mainly in the home and must be addressed. We can't continue to say "Well, there's nothing we can do about that." Why not?

As for schools "that have done it"; well, there are anecdotal stories but no hard evidence. On the other hand, there is plenty of research to show that there has been little or no improvement in closing the achievement gap. (See Harvard Education Letter, March/April, 2007)

For Linda--as you ponder your frustrations and life-choices, I hope that you give consderation to moving from the classroom into an administrative position with some policy input. It is clear that you not only have the right passion and values, but also the specifics with regard to what it takes to bring about change.

For one, I am certain that you could structure an entire first grade curriculum (aligned to standards) around the Nutcracker, given the chance. But more than that, you have a very good grasp on what it takes to intervene with kids who have non-academic needs and barriers. Sad to say, if we look at the history of Title I--those dollars were intended to even the playing field, and likely address some of those specifics. Over time this has either not happened (shrinkage of local resources, siphoning $ off to districts that DON'T have greatest need, etc) as hoped. This has spurred some of the accountability focus of the current NCLB.

I am sure that you are aware that some of your students needs are SUPPOSED to be supported with the specifics that you list by IDEA. Others, however COULD be met through districts forging relationships with social service and mental health agencies. This is beyond the ability of a single teacher (or single parent) to accomplish--but is possible, and is frequently a part of those anecdotal (and studied) schools that make it.

I enjoy your comments.

In one room I have kids with emotional disturbances functioning 1-3 years below grade level, borderline MR students funtioning at grade 2 level, students with "learning disabilities" functioning at grade one, one is alternative asssess, and another who has an IQ of 64 and his IEP that says he has a learning disability. All he does is draw.

I have always been fiercely loyal to my students and to their needs. They cannot, will not ever pass a state exam!!! They have serious retention issues, are easily confused, have very limited vocabulary for their age and absolutely no parental support. I am not talking about kids in regular ed who lag and need intervention. I am talking about kids who need more support. Least restrictive environment IS a small group. I have gotten students with mental retardation to read at age 13-which tells me that they were cheated of reaching their potential, BUT when I pull out all the stops and they still can't tell me what city they live in I am certain that they are not going to ever pass any tests!!!!All special needs kids who can't function in the mainstream are dumped into self contained rooms. They too high for vocational training, too low for regular ed. with support. It is all so sad. In the past I was able to teach them basic economics, functional math and literacy skills but now I am forced to prepare them for exams rather than teach them far more useful things that will carry them through life better prepared. They don't just need academic challenges. They need basic survival training. Many people with cognitive disabilities are sitting in jail cells.

What I don't understand about the No Child Left Behind law is that if a child doesn't pass the classes of the grade they are currently in, as a parent I don't have the option of holding my child back. The school passes them onto the next grade level. I think by doing this they are setting the child up to fail, because if they cannot pass a class or classes in the current grade how can they be expected to pass the next grade classes. By passing them on the child is then expected to not only take the next grades classes but those that they didn't pass of the previous grade. How is this going to help any child achieve success!!

Maria/special education
Please send a copy of your blog to Ted Kennedy and George Miller or others in Congress. They need very much to read the reality of the NCLB Act on Special Education students and their teachers. Perhaps if they really understood your situation, they would make the necessary changes to the NCLB Act so that your teaching would no longer be jeopardized, and your students would gain much needed lifetime skills. Your writing is on target. Thanks.

Thank you, Margo. I enjoy reading your comments also. I think we both want the best education for all children but we see things from different perspectives, based on different experiences.

I am not interested in becoming an administrator, but I intend to devote the rest of my life to helping poor and disabled children get the education to which they are entitled. I plan to do this by being politically very active.

One important thing I've learned in recent years is that politicians really do welcome comments from their constituents and these comments are taken seriously, especially if many people say the same things. Right now I will lobby for big changes in NCLB. I'm writing letters to influential people to tell them how this law has affected at-risk students and their teachers. I agree with you that some schools have overcome barriers but most of us have been denied the additional resources that the government promised. One unintended consequence of the law is that teachers of the poor are made to feel like poor teachers, even though many have devoted their lives (and their money) to helping underprivileged children.

Most of us have the same objective: Helping all children get a high-quality education; so let's continue to accomplish this laudable goal in the best way that we can.

I am a relatively new teacher (9 years) on a second career with a military background. I have a child who qualifies as special ed, brother, cousin and nephew who all qualify. My heart goes out to all individuals who have some form of special need and especially a learning need. I have taught in a Resource Classroom, done inclusion, taught (attempted) in an Emotionally Dist. classroom (in this case more like trying to keep some middle school boys from killing each other) and have worked with a full range of educational needs. Mostly students who cannot read or they are 2 - 3 years behind in their reading skills. If we do not teach someone how to read, they are doomed to become a "ward of the state" (in this case Texas) and most probably in the Texas Department of Corrections (The Prison system). I have heard stats which state that between 80 - 85% of all inmates in Texas cannot read and do not have a high school diploma. It just so happens that I am a secondary teacher (6-12) and I am NOT - repeat - NOT attempting to place blame - but if our overworked and underpaid elementary staff had the opportunity to work with these students in a more direct one-on-one setting without being overly concerned with anything else other than math, I believe many of these students would progress in their reading/math skills to the point that with additional help along the way of their educational journey, they can become productive members of society. It would seem that NCLB in may ways is directly opposed to IDEA. I was a special education coordinator for two years working directly with a small group of 6-12 grade students (135 students) and their teachers. Most of these students were in an inclusion environment and their teachers were seriously trying to help them and yet through all the A.R.D. meetings with staff and parents (over 500 A.R.D.s in two years) the number one concern was their childs struggle with or inability to read. If a person cannot read at a functional level, they are doomed from the start. There are many who have physical and medical limitations, but if we teach students to read and do basic math, they have a much better chance of becoming a productive member of society and not a drain on societ in the judicial system. As NCLB and other such programs force the removal of students from a "Resource Classroom" where the teacher is attempting to develop a compassionate relationship with their students, gain their trust and help the child to know you have their best interest in mind (which I believe having developed such a relationship, the student will want to be in class and not miss school - attendance will increase - proven experience in this process over the past nine years) as you meet the child "AT THE POINT OF THEIR NEED" and bring them along in their development they will taste success (for many a first time thing in school) and want more. A failure to "MEET THE STUDENT AT THE POINT OF THEIR NEED AND GROW THEM FROM THERE" is like taking someone with a Ph D. (extremely well educated individual) and throwing them into the cockpit of a jet airliner with no experience what so ever, and telling them to land the aircraft. The results will be the same - "AN EQUALLY DESTRUCTIVE AND DEADLY EVENT." May The Good LORD help us to get the politicians out of our educational way and allow those who are trained in and experienced in education do their job - Help children to learn and become productive members of society.

I am hopefully misunderstanding an earlier post in which it is stated that we should not be comfortable with knowing that some children are way ahead at the start and they tend to be richer and whiter. I would hate to think that the poster would be suggesting we hold back some children while others catch up. Do we weigh down the fastest track star? make the best piano player wear ski mittens so their skill equals most other children's level of ability? place the least talented auditioner in the role of the star of the school drama production? stagnate the passing ability of the starting college quarterback until the remaining school population can perform similarly? HOW WOULD SUCH AN IDEA BE
HELPFUL?

It is a joke! I have students with severe cognitve disabilities that look at these standarize tests and are blank. They are reading at a kinder level needing to test on a 5th grade test. THey are learninf numbers and basic skills needing to do geometry and multiplication. I think the state should be blind folded, put hand cuffs in there hand, and then have them take the test to see what there doing to some of the students!!

Comments are now closed for this post.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

  • marisol special ed teacher: It is a joke! I have students with severe cognitve read more
  • Diane Hanfmann/ Mother/Teacher/parnt Advocate: I am hopefully misunderstanding an earlier post in which it read more
  • Justin Ray/Special Ed Teacher: I am a relatively new teacher (9 years) on a read more
  • Linda/Teacher: Thank you, Margo. I enjoy reading your comments also. I read more
  • Deanna Enos Nobody Left Behind One Child's Story About Testing: Maria/special education Please send a copy of your blog to read more

Archives

Categories

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Pages