‘No Child Left Behind’ fails to make the grade
By Tracy Cook, Senior Staff Reporter
PSSAs are never fun. The week of testing is usually filled with groans of boredom and hand cramps from writing too many essays.
Yet the PSSAs are used to measure our acheivement through the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002. Ten years later, the act has fallen short of its original goals.
While NCLB has led to increased funding for some school districts, the legislation as a whole remains fundamentally flawed.
The law treats funding as a reward for improved performance. Yet No Child Left Behind fails to consider that significant improvement is difficult to attain when the schools do not have enough financial resources to begin with. Under NCLB, schools will not be able to overcome their financial disadvantage, and thus they will continually fail to meet the achievement targets.
Fortunately, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is determined to overhaul the current legislation. Harkin, the head of the Senate education committee, compiled a new 865-page bill that is intended to return power to the individual states and create a partnership between the states and the federal government. This revised bill will provide benefits to Conestoga and other schools across the country.
Harkin’s bill would abolish the current system of accountability that burdens schools with the task of raising the percentage of students who attain “proficiency” on annual state-administered standardized tests, thus alleviating the pressure on teachers to teach classes solely based on material expected to be on the tests.
This change in procedure would provide relief for Conestoga and similarly ranked schools, where an increase in percentage of students achieving “proficiency” is difficult to reach because the schools already start out with a large percent of high-scoring students.
Harkin’s proposition addresses many of the flaws and loopholes in NCLB’s original legislation. One of the deeply rooted debates regarding No Child Left Behind is the issue of local versus federal control.
Since our teachers know us better than the federal government, they should have the freedom to teach within the district’s curriculum and not conform to the tailored lessons of test preparation. Harkin’s bill would allow states to make their own decisions and design their own educational accountability systems.
Another negative aspect of NCLB that Sen. Harkin’s bill addresses is the tying of funding to a uniform standard within individual schools. Frankly, it is unrealistic to expect all students to conform to a one-size-fits-all academic standard.
At Conestoga, we may take this expectation for granted since we pride ourselves on our scholastic achievements. However, some students may never reach these benchmarks, despite the teachers’ efforts or even the students’ own efforts to pass, so why should the entire school population be held accountable for these outliers?
Harkin’s focused solution aimed at eliminating the “one-size-fits-all” polices can more closely meet the needs of those with different learning capabilities, and thus would be a fairer and more productive approach, since the funding penalty of NCLB does not provide an optimal education result for students.
While the intentions of No Child Left Behind sought to reward schools for achievement, the law has not fulfilled its promise of widespread educational reform because the reality is that these standards of “proficiency” are not realistically attainable for 100 percent of students.
Punishing the schools that fail to meet the “adequate yearly progress,” will only hurt the students in those schools. By creating vague standards of achievement, NCLB has not promoted educational reform, but instead, educational conformity. Hopefully Sen. Harkin’s new bill will change that, but for now, No Child Left Behind gets a failing grade.
Tracy Cook can be reached at email@example.com.