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How We Are Teaching Children to Think Inside the Box Essay

When children come home from school, parents usually sit down with them, go through their homework folders and ask their child, “so, what did you learn at school today?” Twenty years ago, the child may have commented on what they learned in art, music, social studies or geography. Now, a child will comment only on what they learned in their reading circle or in their math book. The fault for this lies within the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Standardized testing has turned teachers into test proctors and schools into testing facilities. Students are no longer receiving a broad education that covers many subjects; instead, their learning is streamlined to fit the content that is on the standardized tests.

The NCLB Act is not working as it was intended, and as a result the American children are falling even further behind other developed nations. In fact, American students are ranked 19th out of 21 countries in math, 16th in science and last in physics (DeWeese 2). The No Child Left Behind Act needs to be tossed out before we do irreversible damage to the education system. It is not too late – we can turn everything around by getting rid of costly standardized tests, ensure students receive a broad education that includes classes in arts and music, which will better prepare them for higher education, and give control back to the individual states.

In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted by Congress, which was intended to close the learning gap between Caucasian students and minority students. The NCLB promised to promote accountability amongst teachers and school administrators, as well as assuring that all children would be proficient – according to standards set by the individual states – in reading and math by the end of the 2013-2014 school year (Ravitch 2). In addition, NCLB stated that by the end of the 2005-2006 school-year every classroom in America would have a highly qualified teacher (Paige 2). The most reliable way that the drafters of No Child Left Behind proposed collecting the data that they needed in order to keep track of accountability and proficiency was by mandating that each state issue their students in grades 3 through 12 a standardized test annually that covers the subjects of reading, writing and math (Beveridge 1).

The test that is issued is given to all students, whether they are Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, disabled, etc. and schools are graded based on the proficiency of their students. Each state sets a yearly goal that increases each year based on the mandates of the NCLB Act, in which all students will be 100 percent proficient in those three subjects by the year 2014 (Ravitch 2). On paper, the NCLB Act looked like a blessing to schools that are located in areas of low-income, minority areas and advocates for children with learning disabilities because these tests were meant to highlight the schools that are doing poorly and ensure they receive funding and training in order to turn the scores around (Darling-Hammond 1).

In a letter that is addressed to parents on their website, the U.S. Department of Education explains that the NCLB Act provides “more resources to schools” through funding and “allows more flexibility” when allocating the funds (3). According to Linda Darling-Hammond, a Professor of Education at Stanford University, “the funding allocated by NCLB – less than 10 percent of most schools’ budgets – does not meet the needs of the under-resourced schools, where many students currently struggle to learn” (2). Another way schools get their funding is through the taxes that we pay. It makes sense that schools located in an area that has higher income would receive more funds than schools located in a low-income area. What happens is that with the limited funding, schools in low-income areas need to prioritize funding to raise the standardized test scores of their students because once a school fails to show improvement in their standardized test scores, they are placed on probation the second year and parents are given a choice to leave the failing school, taking their child and the funding attached to that child to a school that is rated better.

“In the third year of a school’s failure, students are entitled to free tutoring after school” according to Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University (2). The funding provided by NCLB is supposed to help pay for the free tutoring, but, like was stated before, the funding provided is not enough. What happens when a school is mandated by law to provide resources, but it cannot find room in their budget? That’s right, they cut funding elsewhere. In an article written by Angela Pascopella, the Austin Independent School District superintendent Pascal D. Forgione explains that “NCLB also requires that schools in need of improvement set aside 10 percent of their local Title 1 funds for professional development … this creates no flexibility in budgeting” (1).

When schools need to restructure their budget in order to pay for tutoring and retraining teachers, the arts and music programs are the ones that suffer most. NCLB places so much emphasis on the outcome of the standardized tests. Can you really blame the school districts for re-emphasizing the importance of standardized tests when their funding relies on it? States were put in charge of providing their own assessment tests in order to provide a more focused education to their students and ensure that the students meet the state’s standards of proficiency. Tina Beveridge explains that “in 2007, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) cost the state $113 million … [and] many districts eliminated teaching positions as a result, despite the use of stimulus money. As budgets are cut nationwide, the funding for nontested subjects are affected first” (1). The fact that the distribution of funds is based on the outcome of the standardized test scores means that we are blatantly failing the inner-city schools. A school will be placed on probation if they fail just one category ranging from proficiency of Caucasian students all the way down to the proficiency of the students who are just learning the English language.

Schools located in higher income areas don’t really have to worry as much about budget cuts because those schools are located in areas that are predominately white and with parents who are active in their children’s education. On the other hand, schools in low income areas have to provide tutoring and other mandated actions in order to improve their proficiency rates, all the while their students are learning in “crumbling facilities, overcrowded classrooms, out-of-date textbooks, no science labs, no art or music courses and a revolving door of untrained teachers” (Darling-Hammond 2). After a few years of a school not showing improvement through their test scores, their entire teaching staff could be fired. We just saw this happen last year in Providence, Rhode Island. The school board terminated 1,976 teachers because of insufficient results and the need to make budget cuts (Chivvis 1).

The turnover rate for teachers is already extremely high, as much as 50 percent leave within 5 years in urban areas (McKinney et al 1) and the pressure of working in a low-income school district where schools are lacking basic teaching necessities is not all that appealing. The inability of low-income schools to offer teachers incentives because of funding, and with the added stress of job security, it makes one wonder how any highly qualified teachers are in the classroom. On top of that, the curriculum for students has gotten so narrow that it has taken a lot of the creativity and individualization that once attracted the best of the best to the teaching profession. Susan J. Hobart is an example of one of those teachers who used to love doing her job because she was leaving her mark on her students, in a positive way. In Hobart’s article, she tells of a letter she received from one of her students prior to the NCLB Act. The letter explained that Hobart was “different than other teachers, in a good way. [They] didn’t learn just from a textbook; [they] experienced the topics by ‘jumping into the textbook.’ [They] got to construct a rainforest in [their] classroom, have a fancy lunch on the Queen Elizabeth II, and go on a safari through Africa” (3).

The student goes on to explain that the style of teaching she experienced during that time is what she hopes she can do when she becomes a teacher too. Unfortunately, that student’s dream will most likely not come true because the fact is that when schools are placed on probation, like Hobart’s school, they “teach test-taking strategies similar to those taught in Stanley Kaplan prep courses … and spend an inordinate amount of time showing students how to ‘bubble up’” (1). With all the time and energy being placed on teaching children to read and write, you would think that they would be proficient by the time they enroll in college, right? Wrong. “42 percent of community college freshmen and 20 percent of freshmen in four-year institutions enroll in at least one remedial course … 35 percent were enrolled in math, 23 percent in writing, and 20 percent in reading,” according to the Alliance for Excellent Education (1). Schools are so reliant on the standardized tests in order to gauge how students are understanding material that they have slacked-off in other areas like teaching basic study skills and critical thinking skills.

When most of these kids graduate from high school and enter into a college setting, especially the ones who need to take remedial courses to catch-up to where they should be when they graduate, they’re taken completely off guard with the course load and they will either succeed in managing it or struggle for the first few semesters, but the majority will drop out without a degree (Alliance for Excellent Education 1). High school is meant to prepare students for higher education or to enter the workforce, but the government is spending millions of dollars in order to remediate students and doing what high school teachers were meant to do (Alliance for Excellent Education 3). So, who is to blame? The supporters of No Child Left Behind acknowledge that there are some faults to the Act, but those like Kati Haycock believes that “although NCLB isn’t perfect, the Bush administration and Congress did something important by passing it.

They called on educators to embrace a new challenge – not just access for all, but achievement for all … there are no more invisible kids” (1). Supporters feel as though benefits such as holding teachers accountable for all students, including those with disabilities, and weeding out the schools that have a long history of doing poorly outweighs the negatives and that with time, the NCLB Act can be reformed to work as efficiently as it was enacted to work. Ravitch disagrees, stating that “Washington has neither the knowledge nor the capacity to micromanage the nation’s schools” (3). We have to agree with her as concerned citizens and parents. While the NCLB Act meant well when it was passed, it’s time to acknowledge that the government has spent billions of dollars trying to improve the education of America’s youth, yet 10 years later American students are still falling behind the mark set by other industrialized nations and the 2013-2014 school year is quickly coming upon us.

Not only are we falling behind globally, but minorities are still struggling behind Caucasian students. The gap between Caucasian students and minority students, that was intended to close through the NCLB Act, has remained just as far apart. E.E. Miller Elementary School, located here in Fayetteville, NC, just released their annual report card to parents. The chart below shows the break-down of students who passed both the reading and math tests provided at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. African American children, Hispanic children, and children with disabilities are still lagging far behind their Caucasian peers. African American children passed at 49.4 percent, 25.5 percent of students with disabilities passed and Hispanic children passed at rate of 56.9 percent. Remember that the NCLB expects this school, along with every other school in the Nation, to be at 100 percent proficiency by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

Source:

Education First NC School Report Cards, E. E. Miller Elementary: 2010-11 School Year, Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education, Web, 26 Oct. 2011.

In order to put this chart more in perspective, below is the 3-year trend for E.E. Miller. [pic]
Source: Education First NC School Report Cards, E. E. Miller Elementary: 2010-11 School Year, Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education, Web, 26 Oct. 2011.

While math scores are steadily improving, reading scores (the solid line) are declining. E.E. Miller has been on probation for at least 3 years, having provided tutoring to children who were struggling last year. Even with those efforts, the end of the year test suggests those students are still struggling in reading. These mandates are not working. States are spending millions of dollars per year to fulfill all of the required obligations without any fruition. We need to put education spending back into the hands of the states with more substantial federal funding. The federal government cannot expect every public elementary school, middle school and high school in this nation to fix a problem that has been prevalent for many, many years with this one-size-fits-all approach to learning. It will not happen with No Child Left Behind, and it definitely will not happen by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. We can no longer sit and watch while students in America struggle to compete on a global level in nearly all subjects. Teachers are not educating our nation’s students to think critically and to form their own ideas or opinions; instead, teachers in failing schools are stuck teaching a curriculum that directly corresponds to what is being tested, and we are failing to prepare them for higher education. The future citizens we are molding will be of no use to society if they cannot think for themselves, which will happen if they remain in the current system. We need to undo this one-size-fits-all
curriculum and re-broaden our children’s education to include subjects that will teach them think outside the box.

Works Cited
Alliance for Excellence in Education. “Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation.” Issue Brief: August (2006). All4Ed.Org. Web. 30 Oct. 2011.
Beveridge, Tina. “No Child Left Behind and Fine Arts Classes.” Arts Education Policy Review 111.1 (2010): 4. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. Chivvis, Dana. “Providence, RI, School Board Votes to Lay Off All Teachers.” AOL News (2011). Web. 28 Oct. 2011.

Darling-Hammond, Lisa. “No Child Left Behind is a Bad Law.” Opposing Viewpoints. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
DeWeese, Tom. “Public Education is Failing.” Opposing Viewpoints. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. Education First NC School Report Cards. “E. E. Miller Elementary: 2010-11 School Year.”

Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.

McKinney, Sueanne E., et al. “Addressing Urban High-Poverty School Teacher Attrition by Addressing Urban High-Poverty School Teacher Retention: Why Effective Teachers Persevere.” Educational Research and Review Vol. 3 (1) pp. 001-009 (2007). Academic Journals. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. Paige, Rod. “No Child Left Behind: A Parent’s Guide.” U.S. Department of Education (2002). PDF File. 28 Oct. 2011.

Pascopella, Angela. “Talking Details on NCLB.” District Administration 43.7 (2007):

22. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.

Ravitch, Diane. “Time to Kill ‘No Child Left Behind’.” Education Digest 75.1 (2009): 4. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.


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