The United States education system has been facing problem never seen before: schools collectively cheating on tests for their students, laws designed to keep students in school being directly used to get them out of school, and educational standards diminishing. While the nation has been paying attention the cacophony of misery that pours from the television and internet, the cracks in the educational system deepen and spread.
In January of 2002, President G.W. Bush sign into law the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB). This program aimed to provide aid for disadvantaged students, improve the educational system with higher standards to achieve, and shifting focus toward technical academia such as math and reading in the United States.
NCLB moved through the legislative processes with overwhelming majority bipartisan support.
In the beginning, the primary goals of NCLB were school improvements, school and student accountability, equitable educational opportunities, and focus on reading and mathematics. These qualities would be monitored in part by “adequate yearly progress”(AYP)– a government report meant to monitor school advancements. According to NCLB, every child in the U.S. is projected to be “proficient” by 2014.
NCLB was set to expire in September of 2007- a common practice for some kinds of policy making. The expiration date acts more as an open marker that requires Congress to prioritize the act, policy, or bill by a certain time. This gives officials a chance to reevaluate, revise, and amend the policy as needed based on observations made through the years it was active. If there is no need to change anything in the policy, then Congress can reauthorize. Unfortunately, NCLB had a provision that if Congress doesn’t address the policy, then it is left intact and passed back into circulation until it can be replaced- projected to be in 2015. This begs the question: What happens to the children who have traveled the full length of NCLB crumbling education system?
On February 9, 2013; an American Association of University Professors article titled “Warning from the Trenches” drew the attention of the Washington Post. In the article, retired high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein addressed college educators about the inadequacies brought into the public school system by implementing NCLB a decade prior. Mr. Bernstein’s purpose was to warn colleges that the wave of high school graduates coming in are bereft dynamic learning skills.
Richland College sociology professor Kay Coder said she has noticed a serious change in the preparedness of entering students. Many that are fresh out of high school have displayed deficiencies in in cognitive thinking and resourcefulness. She explained to me that the new students arriving are not equipped with the learning skills they need. “They aren’t learning, they are being taught to give the correct answer. And they come to college thinking that getting the right answer is what they are supposed to do. Education is supposed to be a transformative experience, not passing a test,” Coder said.
The longest reoccurring problem with NCLB is actually older than the policy that relies so heavily on it: teaching to the test. With the teacher’s jobs on the line, an unfortunately common trend is drilling the students on the test material. A 2007 University of Maryland study revealed teaching to the test leads to a decline in teaching higher-order thinking and the actual amount of high cognitive content in curriculum.
The late Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, submitted that standardized testing measures only “a portion of the qualities that makes education meaningful” while neglecting: creativity, critical thinking, self-discipline, empathy, integrity, and so on.
Researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas conducted a study on the impact of NCLB and the accountability system in 2008. Their observation of high-stakes, test-based accountability revealed that implicating the performance of the student into the welfare of the school’s standing as a whole altered the school personnel’s view of the students. The longer the accountability system is active in the school, the more teachers would stop viewing students as individuals to educate and more as assets or liabilities to the school.
Additionally, the accountability system wagers the school’s welfare on the student’s performance. The principal must then comply with the performance demands of the accountability system or suffer the consequences. This problem led to a number of responses over the years. Many schools suffered scandal upon the discovery of teachers collectively answering tests for the student to project a higher grade average for the school. School officials would manipulate the appearance of a climbing test score through the strategic removal of students. Stricter policies accompanying the accountability system for attendance and behavior led to the alienation of students that pushed many of them away from school instead of towards it.
The latest problem to finally be addressed started as soon as NCLB took action: the AYP reports have both been completely invalidated or ignored by school and state. In NCLB, the progress scores were derived from the educational standards of each state. Each state is able to set whatever standards they feel is appropriate for their the state education. This rendered all but a few if any of the AYP results undefinable.
As one after another state has been allowed a waiver from NCLB since 2011 (34 approved to date), the Common Core State Standards looks to be one of the few positive steps towards a stable education system. The Common Core was re-initiated in 2010 once it became clear the AYP reports we not salvageable. Without the AYP reports, there isn’t any way of knowing for certain how many students really did graduate since NCLB began.
The United States grade school student body spent the last 10 years being under-educated, over criticized, manipulated, used, bartered, cast out, cheated for, cheated against, and intellectually robbed. I believe professor Coder summarized this best: “That’s not ‘No Child Left Behind’, that’s leaving every child behind.”