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.