Tuesday, March 17, 2009
No Child Left Behind -- Is It Out Of Control?
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the central federal law in pre-collegiate education. This act has the very admirable goal of improving the education of disadvantaged students. The act aims to hold states and schools more accountable for student progress. Some of the changes that cause discomfort to many educators, and joy to many parents of disadvantaged students include: Annual testing, which mandates schools to test annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and at least once in science in elementary, middle and high school. A sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state must also take the National Assessment in reading and math every other year to provide a point of comparison for states. States must bring all students to the “proficient” level by the 2013-2014 school year. To that end, schools must meet state “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) targets. This is based on a formula spelled out in the law and must be met not only by the population at large, but by certain demographic subgroups. If a school receiving federal Title 1 funding (for low income areas) fails to meet the target two years in a row, it must be provided technical assistance and its students must be offered a choice of other public schools to attend. If the school fails three years in a row, they must be offered supplemental educational services such as private tutoring. Beyond that, a school could find themselves under outside correction by the state.
In addition to the testing requirements, the Act requires that teachers must be “highly qualified”, or certified and proficient, in each subject he or she teaches. All new teachers hired with Title 1 money must have at least an associate’s degree or higher and have passed an exam in their subject. The act also create a new grant program called Reading First to help state set up “scientific, research-based” reading programs in K-3. Priority is always given to high-poverty areas and includes a reading program for disadvantaged preschoolers.
These are fantastic initiatives in my opinion. If we are to continue to advance as a nation, we must capture all available talent. Many opportunities for societal contributions lie dormant in disadvantaged children in our cities and rural areas. Be it a medical genius or a really good, intelligent and reliable worker, we must uncover talent wherever it resides. Everyone will need to function as a contributing member of the United States economy if we want to maintain our economic status in the world. We are kidding ourselves if we do not recognize the critical importance of our inter-dependence.
However, there have been controversies around NCLB, as well as problems implementing the act in our county (Dekalb). I see these as growing pains that need major tweaking. Don’t throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” The spirit of the law is respectable – especially so if you are the parent of a low-income minority, non-English speaker or special education student. The NCLB testing has peeled back the onion layer of overall passing school performance to reveal the fact that we are not equally educating sub-groups. As much as many of us have wearied of testing, the statistics are undeniable. Over and over, the white, bi-racial and Asian populations pass the threshold. Blacks, Hispanics and special education students do not. The 2008 testing data shows in black and red that in Dekalb, white and Asian students fair much better than blacks, Hispanics and special education students. And once again, DeKalb county as a system, failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.
Why then, is the solution to offer transfers to the entire population of a school that failed to make AYP in a sub-category? What is now happening is that the highest achievers at “failing” schools with proactive parents are leaving their schools in droves. Many of these students were not members of the sub-category that did not meet AYP. This “brain-drain” virtually ensures that these schools will never make AYP. Add to that, the incredible emergency this creates on a receiving school – one middle school had to make room for over 250 new students after school started - the transfer solution is not the best first answer. What does seem like a good idea to me is to offer intense tutoring, class size reduction and mentoring to students in those failing groups. If that doesn’t cause improvement after a year, then offering a transfer might seem less reactionary. The law desperately needs some flexibility in application.
There are those who think that NCLB has an agenda to frustrate schools into a general dismantling of public education. I can’t see that as being reality, although, there are places such as Detroit where student populations are decreasing enormously with no reasons given. Still, there are many of us who believe in sticking in there and fighting the good fight to improve public education for everyone. Sadly, though, DeKalb does not seem to be making progress in our high schools. We continue to see a vast majority of our high schools unable to make AYP and the response by our administration has been to simply offer transfers to the few schools that do make AYP. But no one tracks these students after their transfer, so we really have no way of knowing if this solution is working. I would wage a guess that it's not, simply judging by the reduction in NCLB students in the freshman class at receiving schools vs the number of NCLB students who make it through to graduation at their school of choice. If it's not working, then we need to find a better method.
As a country, we need to be very thankful for Bill & Melinda Gates. They have hit the nail on the head in that we have an absolute crisis in many of our high schools. We have to drastically change the conventional pathway and pace to a high school diploma by recognizing that one size does not fit all. Vocational and technical schools have declined in favor of a cookie-cutter college prep diploma. At the same time drop out rates have soared. The Gates Foundation discovered that many drop-outs simply feel disconnected and bored at school. However, vocational schools seem to be able to capture many of these students' attention. I chatted with an auto mechanics teacher in Gwinnett County who told me that he had his students enthusiastically doing trigonometry, although they didn’t regard it as such – in their minds, they were problem-solving how to fix an engine.
Everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness in this country. Offering an equal educational environment in which more people can land a job with a living wage and health care benefits for their family is part and parcel to the principles our country was founded on. It increases the quality of life for everyone. So let’s get on board and tweak the NCLB act until it can fully serve the purpose for which it was created – ensuring that even the most vulnerable in our country have an opportunity to succeed.
PLAN TO ATTEND the No Child Left Behind Public School Choice Meeting and voice your opinions and concerns.
The meeting for Regions 1 & 2 schools - Dunwoody, Chamblee, Cross Keys, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Avondale and Tucker will be held on Monday - MARCH 23 at 6:30 PM at Peachtree Middle School, 4664 North Peachtree Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338.
Additional meetings include: TUESDAY MARCH 24, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at RONALD McNAIR, SR. HIGH SCHOOL and
TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at REDAN HIGH SCHOOL.
I would suggest attending the Peachtree meeting AND one of the others in order to see how the same information is presented to very different groups as well as report back here as to the Q&A. FYI, within these regions (1, 2, 4 and 6) Chamblee, Cross Keys, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Stephenson Southwest DeKalb and Tucker DID make AYP in 2008. Dunwoody, Avondale, McNair, Cedar Grove, Redan and Stone Mountain DID NOT make AYP in 08.