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The Future of the American Education System

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The Future of American Education: No Child Left Behind Finding common ground, the United States Congress passed an act in 2001 shortly after George W. Bush took office. Originally proposed by President Bush’s administration, the act “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) received overwhelming bipartisan support. Originally intended to address widespread perceptions that public education was falling far short of expectations, the act has received much criticism. Indeed, almost ten years after the act was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002 there is overwhelming evidence that the NCLB law is deeply flawed and is doing more harm than good in our nation’s public schools. Public recognition of the law’s shortcomings has produced a growing consensus of a fundamental need for overhaul. A new conception of the federal role in education needs to be addressed beyond standards, tests and punishment. Our nation’s schools need to be strengthened in order to truly leave no child behind, but how did such a promising law go so wrong? Reviewing the NCLB act there are many positive attributes: accountability standards are set and measured annually by each state to promote and foster educational growth and achievement; standards are set for teacher qualifications; reading, writing and math are emphasized; educational status and growth by ethnicity are measured to help close the achievement gap between white and minority students; schools are required to focus on providing quality education to students who are often underserved, including children from low income families, non English speakers, as well as children with disabilities; and detailed reports of students achievements and explanations are provided to parents annually. With all this attention and focus on public schools, students’ educational performance should be improving. Unfortunately NCLB act rests on false assumptions; higher test scores equal educational quality, and sanctioning schools based on low test scores drive improvement. Since the NCLB act was signed, reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have stagnated, and the rate of improvement in math has slowed (“No”). Proponents of the act argue that most the shortcomings stem from federal underfunding, but fully funding a bad law is not a solution. Taking a closer look, the Bush Administration did underfund the NCLB act at the state level significantly, but still required states to comply with all provisions of the NCLB act or risk losing federal funding. As a result, most states have been forced to cut non-tested school subjects such as science, foreign languages, social studies, and art. Also, teachers are pressured to teach a narrow set of test-taking skills and a test-limited range of knowledge in order for students to score well on standardized test. When comparing American school children to students internationally, a definite gap in educational performance is present. It seems the U.S. educational system can and should do better. As to standardized tests, there are problems with those also. Since states set their own standards, tests can be written to compensate for inadequate student performance by setting very low standards, thus making tests unusually easy. Many argue that testing requirements for disabled and non-English speaking students are unfair and unworkable, that standardized tests contain cultural biases, and that educational quality can not necessarily be evaluated by objective testing (White). Few would argue against the noble goal of helping all children meet the same set of high standards, but by imposing standards on students’ minds we are, in effect, depriving them of their fundamental intellectual freedom by applying one standard set of knowledge. These one-size-fits-all standards have been either reduced down to the lowest common denominator or condemn students with low-ability to constant failure. In essence, standardized tests oversimplify knowledge and fail to test higher-order thinking skills, but teachers are externally impelled to follow state standards. With respect to teachers, many teachers find fault with several aspects of the NCLB act. New teacher qualification standards are set very high. Many teachers must possess one or more college degrees in specific subjects and pass a battery of proficiency tests. These requirements have caused major problems in obtaining qualified teachers in subjects such as, science, math and special education, especially in rural and inner city school districts. Ironically, many experienced, high quality teachers are transferring to higher performing schools or leaving the profession since the NCLB act directly links student academic performance to school funding and thus teacher pay. At its core, NCLB act faults schools and curriculum for student failure, but the law’s remedies for “failing” schools do not work. Most attempts to “reconstitute” troubled schools according to the law’s mandates fail to improve student performance. The best school, the best teachers and the best curriculum can make a huge difference, but other factors can also be blamed for a school’s weak academic performance; class size, old and damaged school buildings, hunger and homelessness, and lack of health care. By blaming schools and focusing attention on boosting test scores alone, the NCLB act misdirects the political will to address the real needs of children. There are better ways to help troubled schools and student academic performance. Improvement requires rich assessments, from tests to projects, rooted in ongoing class work by students and teachers. A collaborative professional environment for educators is needed and time for them to plan improvements in curriculum and instruction is vital. Real parent involvement, based on detailed assessments of children’s educational development and not just test scores, will help ensure schools are equitably serving all students’ needs. Only if schools demonstrate they cannot or will not improve should more stringent actions be employed. As a parent I have seen firsthand the effects of NCLB act on schools and student academic development. As a result, I have found myself supplementing my children’s education to compensate for the low standards and lack of balanced curriculum. Many classes that were offered during my time in public school are no longer present. Hopefully Congress will make changes to the NCLB act. In the interim, President Obama has offered to lift the law’s most onerous provisions. Under the new provisions, state schools that have adopted new academic standards that the Obama administration calls “college and career ready” will be eligible for waivers (Dillon). Only a handful of states will be ready for the waivers right away and perhaps twenty other states could apply by 2012. Most states will simply not apply at all for the waivers and just wait for Congress to rewrite the law. There is little doubt that the NCLB act will be reauthorized by Congress. The open question is: How will Congress change the act? As parents, we need to encourage our state congressional representatives to make the needed and necessary changes to NCLB act. If we don’t act, not only will our children be left behind, our American public education system will be destroyed.

Works Cited
Dillon, Sam . “No Child Left Behind Waivers for States.” The New York Times. New York _____Times. 22 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.
“No Child Left Behind: An Escalating Track Record of Failure.” Fairtest. Fairtest.org. 25 Jan. _____2008. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.
“Pros and cons of NCLB: What the research says.” Educational Research Newsletter & _____Webinars. 19.8 (2006): n. pag. Web 20 Oct. 2011.
White, Deborah. “Pros & Cons of the No Child Left Behing Act.” About. About.com. n.d. Web.
_____20 Oct. 2011.

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