DMI Blog

Elizabeth Hartline Green

Leave NCLB Behind

Though it sometimes shocks me to learn that people can be so disconnected from schools as to not see the negative impacts of No Child Left Behind, recently The Washington Post published an editorial supporting the reauthorization of the law as it now stands, without proposing major structural changes or additional funding..

The Post posits the idea that we need not throw out the baby with the bath water, and that what NCLB needs is reform, not elimination. A good principle for most laws, if they are grounded in solid theory, well funded, and are accompanied by logical accommodations. Unfortunately, NCLB is none of those things.

It is true that the vast inequalities that exist in our educational system need to be addressed. However, No Child Left Behind does not address the inequalities—it simply highlights them, and then does nothing to solve the underlying conditions from which they have arisen and punishes the schools for not having the resources to deal with those problems. Even worse, NCLB has the ability to make the disparities worse, by withdrawing funding from schools that are already struggling. This system of punishment is counterintuitive, and adversely affects the schools that need the most additional support. The Washington Post does acknowledge that the sanctions harm schools, but ignore the fact that a system that does nothing to address the societal conditions in which disparities exist will never approach solving the still-troubling achievement gap.

Recent studies have shown some improvement in test scores in the past few years under NCLB. Even for the states which haven’t lowered standards, I should hope that schools could find ways to incrementally improve scores after being forced to focus almost exclusively on these tests. But what do these tests measure? If you can design me a standardized test that accurately assesses what a child knows in all aspects (as in synthesis ability, writing skills, application skills, and others), I’ll eat my shorts. Even in a perfectly designed standardized test, you still have the “bad day” effect. I took the GRE twice, about a month apart. The second time my math score improved almost 200 points, simply because I was in a better state of mind. A low GRE score can be remedied, though; children have no opportunity to retake their state-administered NCLB tests.

Besides the fact that a bad day for one child can mean that a school does not make Adequate Yearly Progress, the tests are notoriously biased, do not recreate real-world situations in which knowledge can be applied, and promulgate the idea of a single correct answer. See how you would do; are you smarter than a fifth grader?.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not against tests, or even all standardized tests. I think that tests can be used to assess where a child is and what he or she needs to learn in order to get to a certain level. Tests, in combination with other forms of assessment in the hands of knowledgeable teachers, are an invaluable tool. That is not the case with the state-level tests that are being administered; here is an amusing hypothetical put forward by a teacher.

We don’t have the space here to explore the rabbit hole that is today’s education system and the forces that are seeking to control it. But, basically, NCLB is an unfunded mandate that is set on shaky pedagogy and is excessively punitive to schools and teachers that already start out behind. The Washington Post is right in saying that the Act needs to be reformed, but these crucial aspects cannot be addressed within the current framework; NCLB is not the education reform that we need. Instead of focusing on strengthening NCLB, we must move beyond it, and go to the root of what is causing the racial and economic discrepancies in our educational system today.

Elizabeth Hartline Green: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:18 AM, Jul 09, 2007 in Education
Permalink | Email to Friend