The education policy that I chose is on education today and the influence of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. The NCBL is a United States Act of Congress, which includes Title 1 (program for disadvantaged students offered by the government). This Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills. Each state is required to give these assessments to all students to receive federal school funding. This Act does not set the standards nationwide; each individual state sets the standards. Diane Ravitch, an education philosopher was a supporter of this Act when it was being passed. She believed that every child had the right to a proper education. As the years passed she acquired more experience and knowledge on the Act, and is now completely opposed to the NCLB Act. Ravitch believes that the states dumb down the standards in light of the NCLB. The question now is: is the No Child Left Behind Act seeking to repair the problem, or is it the cause?
Under NCLB, the accountability of a child’s education is examined by the Federal government and turned into the hands of the state. This was the first time an American president has set a goal of universal proficiency in reading and mathematics for all children. The federal emphasis on literacy, reading, and mathematics emphasizes teacher and school accountability, with negative consequences when schools do not meet established improvement goals (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Under NCLB the state must have accountability provisions that include how they will close the achievement gap. According to the Department of Education the achievement gap is defined as such; The difference between how well low-income and minority children perform on standardized tests as compared with their peers.
For many years, low-income and minority children have fallen behind their white peers in terms of academic achievement (Department of Education, 2002). States must also monitor that every student not excluding the disadvantaged achieve academic proficiency. Yearly assessments must be produced to inform parents of the progress of both the state and the community. Schools that do not meet the academic proficiency standards must offer supplemental services and take corrective action. If within five years the school is still not making yearly progress, than dramatic changes in the school’s academic direction must be made. Dramatic changes according to the Department of Education are defined as follows; “…additional changes to ensure improvement.” The definition raises the question of whether there is a plan for failure at all.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, in its “National Report Card” shows that these goals may be falling short. Students in fourth grade show temporary improvement in math right after No Child Left Behind became a law, but returned to pre-reform growth rate. The NAEP estimates that by 2014 less than 25% of financially challenged and African American students will achieve NAEP proficiency in reading. Using the same time frame less than half the financially challenged and African American students will obtain proficiency in math. With so much pressure on the states to perform well, a trend is becoming apparent that they are inflating proficiency levels of students. This causes discrepancies between the NAEP and state assessments especially among the financially challenged, African American, and Hispanic students.
With no sufficient evidence shown on that NCLB is working, the question is as follows; is the federal government capable of running our school systems? There are undoubtedly dangers in the public school system teaching a federally mandated curriculum. When one controls people’s perception of history, one controls the present. There is, of course, a point to be made that if the nations’ children are kept in watered down public schools, positions of power will be opened to the children of the aristocracy, who without fail, are being sent to private schools.
So many of those Politicians who stand in the way of allowing poor children to escape failing schools, send their own children to private schools (sic). In New York City, where I have spent most of my professional life, both the current and the past chancellor of schools sent their children to private schools. Six of the seven members of the now-defunct Board of Education had also sent their children to private schools at one time or another. One might add to the list other notables in New York-the governor, the mayor, the leaders of both houses of the legislature, and the junior U.S. senator (and former first lady). In fact, I cannot remember a mayor of the city who sent his children to public school (Viteritti, 2003).
The reports of success of NCLB are encouraging to those who support the project. There have been schools in Sterling, Virginia and New York City that have received No Child Left Behind blue ribbons for their success in closing the achievement gap. Other schools have earned national praise for instituting such curriculum as “Fit for the Future,” a standards-based health and fitness curriculum for grades 1-10; and an anti-bullying intervention program in York, Pennsylvania (Department of Education, 2005). These programs are used to show the benefits of NCLB but are they academic necessities? The curriculum in a kindergarten class in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin included a lesson entitled “The Little Convincer.” In which a state trooper came into the classroom with a mechanism designed to simulate a car accident.
In a discussion about car seat laws, a topic critics of the curriculum call too heady for kindergarteners, the students, ages five to six years old, were asked repeatedly which one of them were actively using car seats, and whether their parents wore seat belts as well. One child who innocently told the officer that his daddy did not wear his seatbelt was told by the trooper that his daddy could go through the windshield and the glass would cut his face and arms like ribbons, and once he hit the road, the car would roll on top of him. The dramatic lesson ended with each of the students taking a turn in the mechanism that simulated the car crash.
The officer would speak softly to the child asking them questions about their class or the clothes that they were wearing and when the child began to speak would jerk them forward violently to teach them that an accident could happen at anytime. The question is, are these academic lessons that parents assume that their children are attending school for? Is placing the curriculum in the hands of legislators going to further our children’s grasp of the three R’s as most parents hope, or are they going to be taught how to become complacent law abiding citizens?
The problem in purposing that the public school system is flawed beyond repair is offering an alternative that people are comfortable with. When a conversation about privatizing the school system begins many questions must be answered to abate the fears of the public. Would privatizing schools be affordable to all families? Many debates have waged on the validity of a voucher program, allowing families to choose any school they desire whether it is parochial, private, public, or chartered.
Without public schools, there are no taxes necessary to support the program, and that money can be returned to the families of school aged children, creating extra funds for private education. In a system of free market education the individual and specialized institutions of learning would have to compete for students, because the money would be linked to the students themselves. Never in the history of the free market have advances been made without competition. When the monopoly on our children’s future ends, a true marketplace of ideas will be born.
In an interview with US News, Ravitch was asked “What needs to happen to make the law more effective for school?” she responded “I think the main thing to change is . . . to get rid of the remedies and the sanctions because the remedies don’t work and the sanctions don’t work. What No Child Left Behind has given the United States is an atmosphere of punitiveness. The word accountability has come to be a synonym for punish. If students don’t learn, it’s the teachers’ fault. Fire the teachers. Close the schools. We’re now on a wrecking mission to destroy American public education.” Ravitch has completely rejected this Act, and believes we should do something to make our education system stronger.
I questioned? Is the No Child Left Behind Act seeking to repair the problem, or is it the cause? I now have the answer. The NCLB Act sounded very tempting as it was passed by congress, and many like Diane Ravitch had hopes in such a great project for our education system, but everything is not perfect. The NCBL offers great support to schools, although standardized testing is not the correct way of determining the amount of financial support each school deserves or requires. After long hours of research I believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has taken a part in the cause of our problem in our education system today.
Schools will not improve if the value is set only on what is tested. “The tests we have now provide useful information about students’ progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education.” (Ravitch. The Death and Life of The Great American School System, pg. 226) In order to improve our public school system we must start by focusing on our schools, offering them an authentic and sincere education that encourages our students to learn.