Soon after his inauguration, President George W. Bush gathered around 500 educators to the White House to unveil his sweeping plan to reform public schools, which he called No Child Left Behind. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was, and still is, meant to be the saving grace of the US educational system. Touted as a new standard that raises the bar on education, it promises to bring the proficiency level of all students to one hundred percent for their grade level. At first glance this sounds like an admirable goal, but as you look deeper it becomes questionable. As results begin to emerge questionable becomes doubtful. Expectations are not being met. Future expectations are, by many educators’ opinion, impossible.
For the US there is no federal required educational standard that applies to all states. The “No Child Left Behind” set of funding guidelines provides funds for schools provided they show Adequate Yearly Progress in specific disciplines, reading/language arts and mathematics. Each school system is required to project the expected AYP for each year until 2014, at which time one hundred percent proficiency is expected of all students in a district, of LEA (Local Educational Age.
Since there are no federal standards in place, the states are burdened with the responsibility of devising their own standards. This inherently gives the states the leeway, and actually makes it a necessity, to lower the bar of proficiency to allow all students to pass by the year projected. The only way to guarantee every student passes proficiency exams is to make them easy enough to pass.
The focus here is on testing to a state standard in order to qualify for federal funding. This has created a new market for testing materials needed by states to demonstrate that they meet the necessary criteria. Along with the expense of the testing, there are always opportunistic individuals and corporations seeking to take advantage of the situation.
Is there a curriculum out there that can teach our children more and more, faster and faster? Are there new teaching techniques for this becoming more readily available? Making a law or declaring a mandate does not translate into accomplishment. The methods that will have the best chance to succeed will begin at home. You cannot teach a child if that child does not want to learn. A child’s first teacher and the most influential person in his or her life are the parents. In order for the nation’s children to collectively raise their scores to a competitive level with other industrialized nations, and therefore become world leaders, they first need to become world learners.
We must find the motivation, the ambition, to teach our children. Not only having high expectations of schools and teachers but of ourselves is the going to be the fastest, simplest and most cost effective way to get our educational system back in line with the rest of the world.