NCLB Ten Un-Intended Years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the highly publicized education reform effort championed by the George Bush administration, has not been synonymous with school improvement.  The involvement of the federal government in education at the state and local levels has not translated to improved student and teacher performance, rather NCLB put into place rigid guidelines that were not equitably funded across all schools.

While teacher’s work toward meeting unrealistic federally mandated school performance ratings, creativity and innovation have continued to leave the classroom.  Federal test mandates are so onerous in their implementation at the school level that the focus has shifted from education innovation to test prep for an exam that no college or university recognize as part of the admissions requirement.  The inability of the federal government to manage K-12 education is further proven in the tens of thousands of “failing” public schools, labeled as such because they are not measuring up with standardized test scores; this problem is particularly high in predominantly minority serving schools.

Over the last decade, each state as mandated by the federal government has held schools accountable to assessments that were never required to align with or link to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); the NAEP exam is the standard most often referred to when comparing how we fare academically as a nation.  Furthermore, though certain interpretation of statistical performance data suggest that our students are performing well; however, the drop-out rate continues to rise, direct admissions into a four year college/university is on the decline, and minority students continue to perform at levels below their White and Asian counterparts.

What we need is an accountability system that is connected to measures that indicate college readiness, such as the SAT/ACT.  Many of the standardized tests put into place as a result of NCLB have only been sufficient for meeting minimal high school graduation standards, but not college or STEM workforce ready standards for many students graduating high school.  This has resulted in schools graduating an increasing number of students lacking basic analytical and problem-solving skills.

What all this has taught us is that for federal education policies to be successful, it must be supported by research led by essential questions aimed at determining how to drive student achievement and teacher performance.  Policies that are implemented then have to be accompanied with the proper framework and financial resources required to deliver effective programming and desired outcomes.  This represents the type of education reform schools, across the country, can rally behind, as it would be aligned with the specific needs of the school community, as opposed to forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to getting all students college and career ready upon graduation from high school.   Without taking these critical measures, the federal government might one day face the realization that it is too far removed from where the work is getting done at the school level, and that implementing such sweeping mandates is a task much too difficult to manage from the top down.

Why Disparities Continue with No Child Left Behind

The “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act” of 2001 was created to implement standardized tests to measure student success and teacher performance (accountability). Ten years later, the education system is still experiencing educational disparities due to the lack of well-prepared and qualified teachers in critical areas such as math, science and literacy. American students will continue to lack skills to compete in a global market regardless of demographic and racial backgrounds without the proper resources mentioned.

Why Disparities Continue with NCLB:

The provisions of NCLB did not promote innovation or high expectations nor did it encourage the development of 21st century skills in public schools.  NCLB has further created a national obsession with standardized tests that do not measure depth, application, nor provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Education acts, such as NCLB, that lack adequate funding to all states and school districts and shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers,  do not provide all children an opportunity for a great public school education.  The pitfall of NCLB is that it was neither specifically designed to close the achievement gap nor increase student achievement. Rather, it simply set an achievement benchmark and passed it on as a federal mandate for all public schools to achieve.

NCLB Overlooked Significant Factors to Creating Effective Educational Programs:

To ensure that educational programs are effective in increasing student achievement, educational leaders must be held accountable to create programs guided by a concise understanding of the school community and socio-cultural dynamics; particularly, within schools serving greater numbers of low income and minority populations. Program administrators and developers of educational offerings should create procedures that ensure programs are implemented as they are designed, with built-in accommodations to support and supplement broken and absent systems.  Leaders in education should understand that what works in one community will not necessarily work in another and there is no one size fits all solution to creating effective educational programs.  The reality is that successful education programs accommodate systemic needs of the school community, for example:

Scenario 1

To create effective educational programs that focus on the development of teacher content knowledge, teacher training should be accompanied with supporting workshops, adequate in-class tools and resources, instructional observations, and product evaluation (i.e. student-created product(s), presentation(s), and exams.)  The aforementioned holistic approach allows educators to truly gauge area(s) where children are gifted to help students visualize academic success, and holds teachers accountable for results-oriented implementation at an acceptable level.  The end result being, the educational program is more likely to be effective in closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement.

 

Scenario 2

Creating effective educational programs becomes more challenging in schools serving high percentages of low-income students as they usually do not have the financial support of a PTO/PTA or community businesses.  Ensuring program implementation is effective requires integrating fund-raising activities and mentors. This extra step accounts for the inadequate social-emotional and economic support at home or the lack of exposure to opportunities beyond their immediate environment.

Necessary Changes:

The nation continues to respond to the education crisis by amending previous federal mandates, such as the reauthorization of NCLB to the America Competes Act, to meet our current education needs.  With every revision, government and federally aligned organizations continue to implement the same systems within the same structures.  Appointed officials and organization leaders, who failed the first time, are given an opportunity to re-invent themselves; yet, they choose to continue to work within the same structure.  As a result, we continue to get more of the same; an ever-widening achievement gap, disparities in education, and the potential of a lost generation of children unable to compete academically on a global stage. The government structures and federally funded organizations created to carry out education agendas, in large part, are not designed to engage at the school level or with grassroots organizations that have a pulse on what yields proven results in addressing the needs of their school and community. For a moment, just consider the numerous effective programs we have watched go unfunded and under supported while new programs are adopted, yet prove ineffective once they have run their course.  It causes you to wonder, are we really committed to delivering a quality education to all children or are we simply searching for the next new thing?

How to Create Educational Effectiveness:

Educational effectiveness begins with good leadership at the school level with administrators and teachers. For teachers to be effective and innovative in their profession, they need the support of principals to create a school culture that provides an instructional balance between implementing federal education mandates and state-approved curriculum. Achieving success in the classroom requires adequate teacher training using proven professional development models coupled with the right resources; this translates into practical learning exercises that foster depth, rigor, and relevance, contributing to the overall success of students.  Other areas that support creating educational effectiveness include opening lines of communication at all levels, testing, teacher mentoring models, budgeting priorities, alignment of student achievement initiatives, policy makers, and with teacher accountability systems.  Lastly, for this to have its desired effects, we must shift the focus to the students and how we best educate them, based on how they learn.  We must customize the educational experience to the needs of the children, and that approach must include hands-on and project-based learning.