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Human Rights

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Warren C. Everett| October 23, 2014| Initial Findings| Human Rights PS 459 The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was drafted into legislation in hopes of substantially tightening the achievement gap in public education. Deriving from a concern about the efficacy of public education in America, the NCLB is meant to improve education in general, especially for minority students and also for students who have special needs (Ermolaeva and Ross, 2010 p. 33). The legislation is a junction of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and also President Bush’s strategies, which include:
“Increased accountability for results from states, school districts, and schools; greater choice for parents and students, particularly those in low-performing schools; more flexibility for states and local educational agencies in the use of federal funds; qualified teachers in their subject areas; stronger emphasis on reading and mathematics; and scientifically based education methods,” (Harrison 2010, 346).
The legislation was met with generally positive reviews due to its emphasis to remedy many of the factors, which have for centuries plagued the public education system. Yet, in recent years, the act is a hot button topic in debates among scholars, educators and parents. The NCLB has been praised for its initiative to fix the public education system and its advocacy for underrepresented students. Rhode (2012) says, “ No Child Left Behind represented an episode of bounded institutional change…” However, the effectiveness of the legislation is questionable. Recent studies show that the effectiveness of the NCLB is non-existent. Rowley (2007) finds that there is an 82.8% gap, which exists between blacks, and whites measured by NCLB mandated test scores. Another study also finds that, “the law puts special education students at a disadvantage, rather than giving them the advantages that were intended” (Ermolaeva and Ross 2010, 33). Both, minorities and special needs students are the target of this law, yet, instead of its helping them improve it has seemingly failed these students. Scholars have discovered that there are many reasons which the NCLB has failed minority students and special education students. The breadth of these causes reach from counterproductive incentives to discrimination. Many people have suggested that the lack of success is due to the federal government underfunding the legislation. This seems plausible. But in a study conducted by public finance scholars Duncombe, Lukemeyer, and Yinger (2008) they found that the problem is not that the NCLB is underfunded, rather states are given incentive to dumb their standards down. The continue to assert states have to make a choice, “avoid the NCLB sanctions by setting low standards for student performance or avoid NCLB sanctions by stetting high standards and significantly raising state and/or local taxes to ensure those standards can be reached” (Duncombe and Yinger 2008, 402). Scholars, as mentioned, have found that special education students have been defectively impacted by the NCLB. “Because the law measures the achievements of all students according to the same guidelines, special education students are often blamed for the school failing to meet standards” (Ermolaeva and Ross, 2010 p. 33). Because of the belief that special needs students hinder the progression of student achievement it has become common practice for schools to force students into special education classes, which the legislation presses schools to do (Ermolaeva and Ross 2010, 33). "If you're behind two or three years in reading because you weren't taught the basics by third grade, [and] you're supposed to be an independent reader— [then] you're labeled as learning disabled,"(Finkle 2010). These students are then exempt from the testing which measures student achievement. Children are forced into special education classes for a number of reasons. Among those with mental disabilities or even those who have trouble with comprehension and retaining information, students who behave poorly are placed into special education classrooms. “The practice of pushing struggling students out of school to boost test scores has become quite common” (Finkle 2010). Authors Ermolaeva and Ross (2010) have found that this trend has contributed to the rising number of students who drop out of school before graduation. Moreover, it has been proven that NCLB has been disadvantageous for improving the achievement gap between whites and blacks. Several scholars have studied the flaws of the NCLB and have found that one primary reason for this failure is due to a lack of focusing on socio-economics. Family structure and income can either promote or impede academic success due to the types of resources available and the level of parents’ education. Students from families with higher socioeconomic status have higher test scores (Rowley 2007). These factors have contributed exponentially to the NCLB failing to draw any significant closure in the achievement gap. Work needs to be done. Scholars have recognized the need for reformation and have suggested several ideas, which would, hopefully, assist in the NCLB closing the achievement gap. Firstly, there is a need to remove the perverse incentives for schools to lower their standards. It is suggested that schools should calibrate state standards based on their correlation with National Assessment of Education Progress test scores. States with stricter standards would then be given either be given more funding or lower sanctions when they fail (Duncombe and Yinger 2007, 404). Minorities are the mass of those who are at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. As scholars have shown, those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are those who are greatly disadvantaged by the NCLB. To offer a remedy for those who are affected, academically, by their family’s status, the idea of socioeconomic school integration has been proposed. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a study was conducted to assess the effects of integration between very-low-poverty stricken children into schools of the most-advantaged schools. The author found once integrated into higher performing schools, the children outperformed those students who attended least-advantaged elementary schools. In total, the author suggests that the NCLB should reassign its districts to integrate all socioeconomic backgrounds (Kahlenberg 2012, 69).

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