President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation has given the federal government more leeway and power in the educational system than in the entire history of our country. Prior to NCLB, almost the jurisdiction of public education belonged to each individual state. The Department of Education employed few; the main focus of the Dept. has been that of grant funding.
In other words, Big Government was supposed to keep it’s nose out of the classroom so when saying that NCLB is failing, the insinuation isn’t that the government isn’t doing ENOUGH, b/c it’s doing more than it ever has. In actuality, when groups criticize, unless they want the feds to pull out of education altogether, they need to emphasize that changes need to be made, certainly, but that the concept is a good one.
And, apparently most people believe that it IS a good one. For the most part, acceptance of NCLB was bi-partisan. Ted Kennedy voted for it. Of course now he’s making suggestions for changes, just as all interested parties are doing, b/c the bill is up for reauthorization. This is way NCLB is big news, once again.
Lawmakers have three choices with NCLB: 1) they can leave it as is 2) They can make changes to it, but conceptually keep the core, or 3) they can eliminate it altogether. Choices 1 and 3 are both pretty unlikely, so the question becomes what will be changed, and in what fashion.
Bush’s 2009 education budget was recently released, and a number of NCLB policies had cuts in their budgets, while some were eliminated altogether. Again, one must keep in mind that in eliminating some facets of the bill, he is not eliminating some staid, iconoclastic tradition of the department of Education. He’s simply eliminating and changing was was signed into law only six years ago. It’s important to keep a good perspective.
The problem with the American public is that we only pick up bits and pieces off of the CNN ticker as it rolls by while we’re usually busy doing something else. In a survey, it was amazing how many people did not know under which president NCLB was enacted. Even fewer realized that for the first time, the feds have established a system of accountability that the states must comply with. In point of fact, we could almost expect something like NCLB to come from the Democrats,r ather than the Republicans, b/c of the increased jurisdiction the government now has.
Certainly, based on recent studies, NCLB has had a positive impact. Even had there been no impact whatsoever, what it has done is focus attention on America’s youth and their readiness to enter the workforce.
Education editor Michael Winerip of the New York Times suggests in one of his recent columns that NCLB may be reaching its goals that the rest is up to an “x” factor that is beyond the control of the Dept of Education that “x” factor being the family. Bottom line the kids who did the worst were those who had other variables sabotaging their efforts. In other words, what was going on at school wasn’t the true indicator of how well those kids performed.
In light of all of this, this article will go on the assumption, once again, that NCLB is essentially a good idea that needs to be re-tooled. Here are some suggestions:
1. Only 1% of students in a district are “allowed” to be assessed as cognitively disabled enough to warrant exemption from testing. This is absurd. There ARE districts that have a much larger percentage than this, and to “require” that virtually all of their students be proficient in reading and math is unrealistic. There needs to be a way to differentiate the difference between “average districts”, and those who are comprised of students who need extra help.
2. Another educationally disenfranchised group that needs to be considered is made up of students who come from other countries and speak no English. There are multi-family dwellings run by Catholic charities throughout the country. Once such facility is in San Antonio, TX. The students there are refugees from Africa. Long before they can be expected to learn mandated curriculum, they must learn enough “triage” English, and enough customs (such as how to use eating utensils, etc) to simply survive. These students should not be included in the “average” student population, yet at this point, they are.
3. We need to stop “dinging” schools based on the test results of kids who have transferred in from other schools. The one true way to gauge a school’s performance is to track students who have always attended there.
As is the case with any new legislation, improvements need to be made based on careful study. This is absolutely necessary to prevent throwing the baby out with the bath water, and concentrating on the goal. . Of all of the most critical ways in which the United States invests in ways to foster the global economy, the most critical is ensuring the future preparedness of the workforce.