The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
During his campaign, Bush railed against the “soft bigotry of low expectations” to promote his school reform strategy, which is based on high stakes testing. Now in office, “Leave No Child Behind” is his motto put forth in a 28-page position paper on reshaping the role of the federal government in education. By focusing on the lowest performing schools and the racial dimensions of the achievement gap, Bush gives his education rhetoric an edge and an urgency it would otherwise lack. The President uses this “education” rhetoric to outline proposals for vouchers and high stakes standardized tests that would actually reinforce institutional racism in education. Despite all this, and with cooperation from the Democratic Party the Act passed.
On January 8, 2002, the President signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The new law personifies President Bush’s education reform plan and it the most all encompassing reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, since its ratification in 1965. The design of the Act is to narrow the gap between the disadvantaged and the more advantaged children, while changing the cultural climate of the nation’s schools. The law sets out to define each school’s success in terms of student achievement. The law itself is based upon four principles: solid accountability, increased local control, extended parental options, and more importance placed on teaching methods that work. Here are some of the principles applied.
The first principle of responsibility for results entails the formation of standards in each state for what each child should know and learn in grades three through eight in the subjects of reading and math. With these new standards in place, students will be measured by progress and achievement with state tests that match the state standards that are given to every child, every year.
The Act will give more power to parents, educators, administrators, and lawmakers because of the data provided by the annual tests. This data will be available in annual reports in such categories as the performance of the child, the performance of the school, and the state’s overall performance. Parents, in turn, will get information on the quality of their children’s schools, the qualifications of their teachers, and the progress of their child. Teachers will get information on how each child is progressing, which will help identify which children need special attention and where they need it.
To describe just a few responsibilities the states have implemented, because of the requirements of the NCLB Act, include identifying languagesother than Englishthat are spoken in the current student population, develop a way to assess these languages with help from the state’s Secretary of Education if “linguistically accessible academic assessment measures are needed” (ETS At a Glance, 6). Beginning in the 2002-2003 school year, within each individual respective school, each state must evaluate proficiencymeasuring speaking, listening, reading and writing skillsfor students with less than adequate English skills. Each state must also provide State Report Cards that include teacher qualifications, cumulative information on student progress by race, ethnicity, etc., and other information that provides student status in learning. School districts will also provide report cards for parents and the public on the academic attainments in districts terms, and individual school terms that provide comparisons of schools to the rest of their district and to the schools of the entire state. As previously stated, states must begin evaluating students by administering statewide standard tests in reading and mathematics for grades three-eight, and at least once in grades ten-twelve according to that state’s academic standards.
The funds that the final bill authorizes are $490 million for each state to develop these assessment procedures. These funds are incrementally increased by year, for instance: Fiscal year 2002$370 million, FY 2003$380 million, FY 2004390 million, and FY 2005-2007400 million. The results of these tests must give “individual student interpretive, descriptive, and diagnostic reports that allow parents, teachers, and principals to understand and address the specific academic needs of students” (ETS at a Glance 5). The President has lived up to his promises in funding.
Living up to his word, the President, has increased the funding each year. In Presidents Bush’s newest budget proposal federal education funding for Texas is increased to more the $7.6 billion, which is 60% more money than when Bush took office. The President’s budget proposal increases Title one fundingfunding for the neediest childrento $1.2 billion, $505.9 million over the funding amount President Clinton provided. Here is a result from this increased funding.
Third graders in Houston did better this year on the state’s standardized reading test in comparison to last years, but still did not meet of with the rising standards of the test. Nearly all Texas high school juniors passed the graduation exam this year, which was up over what was expected. Most of the third graders have passed the TAKS test (97%) up slightly over last year. However, with the improvements are great, but what have we overlooked. What the NCLB Act does not take into account is that from the Jeffersonian era until now, our public school system has been inadequate and antiquated. The system has come a long way, but the fundamental question of a fair and equitable system has eluded the public school system here in the United States. Regardless of the efforts the state legislatures and congress have made, equality in our schools has not been reached. Fundamentally, the way to mend the public school system is to find a way to distribute tax dollars evenly. However, the rhetoric that is involved now is undermining the issue that “all men are created equal”. The more affluent neighborhoods want the money that they pay in school district tax to stay within their district, so that the money will benefit their child and the children of their neighborhood. This is, of course, quite understandable, but is it the most important issue (dealing with education) that faces these neighborhoods. I believe that the middle and upper-middle class is not looking at the long-term effects, such as the future of our inner cities, crime, safety, and a poor class that never improves orin some casescan not improve, and these things will end up effecting their neighborhoods. Essentially, the question is do these neighborhoods want instant gratification or a better nation in the end.
In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s article, “Proficiency Is Not Enough” she asserts “one of the reasons it is so devilishly difficult to balance equity and excellence in our schools is that, despite the political rhetoric to the contrary, we simply don’t provide adequate economic support to nurture both goals”. This statement is not only politically correct, but also completely and unequivocally wrong. There is no need to balance anything with equity, it is either you have it or you do not. The word “Excellence”, on the other hand, is vague and indirect.
With all that said, our nation needs to see that the changing rhetoric. Segregation and de-segregation have not worked, affirmative action has not worked, and the equal rights act has not worked, but they have all improved the education of the poor and disadvantaged. As it stands now our nation is just missing true equality, and will continue to be, until we recognize that discrimination starts in our public school system. As a society we can continue this farce that affirmative action will, eventually, bring about equality, when the very idea is discriminatory in and of itself. This is maintaining the status quo, but not pushing to be better. The affirmative action programs that are in place are more tangible than improving the education system from the bottom up, but the reward would be eliminating discrimination in the way government educates it’s citizens. Where the crux of the situation lies is in the way the nation is approaching discrimination. When minorities (not all) elect to attend college, the universities they select are out to meet a quota so that the school can receive tax incentives from the government for inviting a person of a minority to attend their university. This money should be put in our elementaryto correct the problem of discrimination not fixing it after 18 years of it and secondary school districts that do not have the land value of other districtsindecently; the value of land is directly contributed to the level of education in the district. This redirection of the tax incentives will serve to improve the value of the education the residents receive thereby enabling these districts to compete, and solution will not be about the color of ones skin, but “by the content of their character”. The transition period will be our toughest yet, but I dare say that if this was implemented in 1964 it would be a different nation with the gap closed or not as wide as when it started. This is where the rhetoric must change.
Currently we are in the end stages of the game of appeasement, but our nation will continue to be involved in this. This appeasement stage is to make everyone happy will continuing to be in this rut, unless the talk changes and the right thing can begin. The groove of this rut is so deep that the challenge will be a test of our determination as a nation. Political groups such as the NAACP and the Rainbow Coalition is where the turn of the tide rests. These groups will have to foster the idea of true equality and quit the rhetoric that is spinning the plight of the minorities. They will ask why and my answer would be that the violence in our inner cities is no less than barbaric, the number of minorities in prison is a sign that the road we are traveling is detrimental to the people of this great nation, and the leadership alive in the minority communities is only looking out for themselves. If they were looking out for their people, the problems in these minority communities would be getting better. The NCLB Act does start to address some of these problems, but it is just a step and much more needs to be done.
The No Child Left Behind addresses the school problems, and does quite a bit of realistic changes. The simple point of the act is to improve the public school system or give the parent an option of sending their son or daughter to another school. However, the school has to fail overall. The act induces better management by the districts, the principals, and the teachers. For the school year of 2002-2003, the standardized testing put into practice by the act, started at a minimum requirement, but the test will be getting tougher and tougher. This year we have had some changes because of the increased standards that have to be met, and many schools around the country have titlessuch as undesirable that are not as desirable as last years. Here are some of the consequences of the increased difficulty of the 2003-2004 tests.
In Bexar, County Seventy-six schools had to give up desirable titles such as “exemplary” and “recognized” thanks to a harder exam. Compared to 47% of state schools acknowledged as “exemplary” or “recognized” in 2002, 2004 state schools had 39% identified as academically acceptable. The sad factor is that academically unacceptable state schools have nearly doubled since 2002. Unfortunately, only one school in Bexar County and none of our districts have acquired this label. Will they double again next year?
Just in Bexar county alone the teens that are dropping out of high school, and taking the GED test, has nearly doubled in the last three years. There seems to be some concern, because in 2005 the No Child Left Behind act, the school will be required to report their dropout rate within their statistics. Nationwide the estimation of high school students that will graduate on time will only be a mere 68 percent. Wow, what a disappointment this is for the school system in America. The key here is that these figures are closer to the truth to let America see what the real problems are.
What is puzzling is that when the kids do dropout of high school, and decide to take GED classes, the entire situation changes. A teacher at the Northside Learning Center treats the 16 and 17 year old dropouts as adults, and she tells them when they act up to remember “that this is an adult education class, and I am not here to baby sit.” Children in high school the situation changes to an atmosphere of tolerance to a certain amount of disruptive behavior. We need an attitude that articulates that a high school education is necessary, and that every child’s future depends on it.
Passing the No Child Left Behind Act has been a watershed event in the national education reform movement. The President and certain members of congress joined together to make this happen without partisanship, recognizing the public’s demand that the education of our children should be our number one priority. However, this type of reform will not come easily. As a nation we must now focus on three factors that will determine success: a commitment of resources, an adequate amount of time. and a greatly sustained effort.
Eventhough circumstances have changed since this historical legislation was first enacted, we face a new reality that is different from the pre September 11, 2001. More attention has been placed on our security, thereby shrinking the budget on other priorities. These shrinking budgets are forcing tough decisions by elected officials at the state and local levels, and all other Americans. However, the desire for meaningful education reform continues to persist. An Opinion Dynamics survey conducted for ETS in February of 2002 found that Americans overwhelmingly back each individual state administering annual tests to students in order to determine if standards are being met. A majority of those surveyed also supported directing a larger share of federal education money to schools that do not perform well on such tests to help them improve. While federal funds have been made available for these new tests, significant funding will have to come from the state level as well. While most state legislatures will still need to insure that the appropriate amount of funds go to the schools, teachers, learning and education, as well as these new funds being distributed properly. It is now time for everyone of us of us to follow through on our commitment to advancing quality and equity in our public schools.
The Act calls for high standards, accountability, and annual standards-based assessments. Federal mandates now require testing some 22 million students every year. This is an ambitious endeavor, and has to be done right. But the development of a fair, accurate test, even in just one subject for one grade, is a lengthy process. The assortment of unreliable data and costly mistakes assures us that we must invest the time and money it takes to get it right the first time.
The regimen for the testing will provide important information that the American puplic and lawmakers can use to accomplish significant, lasting reform. However, testing alone will not enough. We must respond to the results in an intelligent, thoughtful, and responsible way. “We must provide the resources to help teachers teach and help students learn, and we must monitor progress via well-designed assessments. Only then will we be able to reach our goal: an education system marked by excellence in student performance, elimination of the achievement gap, and, yes, tangible evidence that no child is left behind” (Get the Facts about the NCLB, page 1).
Bipartisan agreement between President Bush and congressional Democrats made the passage of the NCLB Act made the passing of the law easy. The key battle was over Bush’s proposal to tie federal aid to annual testing. However, the Administration wanted to end the 35-year history of Great Society-style education policies. Since, every major federal education program is up for reauthorization soon, such as Title I, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and Head Start. Bush’s plan is the opening round in an effort to redefine federal education policy in new, conservative directions.
For an elected President coming to office with historically low levels of support among African Americans, the poor and pro-business persona, education is an outreaching issue for the President. In fact, combining rhetorical concern for the victims of inequality with policies that perpetuate it may be an operative definition of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” Although the President’s policy paper left out key details like budget figures it staked out positions that will shape debate over the federal education agenda. They include:
“A call for annual federally mandated testing in third through 8th grades in reading and math. This call to leave no child untested could dramatically influence states and school districts already sagging under expanded testing mandates.
The restructuring of dozens of federal programs, many targeted to specific needs like class-size reduction and after-school programs, into general categories of block aid that states can use with more flexibility, and less concern for equity, to “improve student achievement” (i.e., raise test scores).
An overhaul of Title I, the largest federal education program, that would allow the introduction of a voucher system to encourage students to “seek other options,” including private or religious schools.
An expanded early childhood reading initiative that would fund a limited range of phonics-based approaches to reading instruction.
Increased funds and support for charter schools.
Reduced support for bilingual education, and a requirement that non-English speaking students receive instruction entirely in English within three years of entering the school system.” (Passive Opposition to “No Child Left Behind” as Negotiations Begin, Page 1-2)
1. Bush Cites Improvement In America’s Schools http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/06/10/bush.education/
2. Get the Facts about the NCLB http://www.schoolresults.org/
3. “More teens settling for GED”, San Antonio, Express News, November 1, 2004
4. The No Child Left Behind Act, A Special Report Prepared by The ETS State and Federal Relations Office http://ftp.ets.org/pub/corp/nclb.pdf, June 2002 (Revised)
5. No Child Left Behind, NCLB Making a Difference in Texas http://www.ed.gov/nclb/overview/importance/difference/texas.pdf
6. Passive Opposition to “No Child Left Behind” as Negotiations Begin http://www.schoolwisepress.com/smart/news/rotation_news/nclb.html
7. Proficiency Is Not Enough by Carol Ann Tomlinson http://www.nagc.org/Policy/tomlinsonarticlenov62002.htm
8. Rethinking Schools Online http://www.rethinkingschools.org/special_reports/bushplan/Bush153.shtml
9. Stronger AccountabilityTesting for Results, http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accountability/ayp/testingforresults.html
10. Texas Education AgencyNCLB Program Coordination http://www.tea.state.tx.us/nclb/proginfo.html