One of the things that I find hardest to understand about the No Child Left Behind law is that it is entirely driven by punishment. Schools that fail to meet their AYP targets are penalized in any number of ways while those that do get a nice pat on the back and higher targets. States that don’t follow the NCLB guidelines precisely risk losing millions of federal dollars while those that manage to make their way through the maze of rules are ignored.
The big disconnect is that many of the most fervent supporters of the law are also the ones who claim we must bring more business practices to running schools. Ok, let’s try that approach. Name me one successful business that uses nothing but a system of penalties for motivating their employees. Is there a major corporation in this country that penalizes the entire organization if one division fails to meet it’s goals? But that is exactly how NCLB works – if one group in the school fails to meet the AYP target, the whole school is penalized. And most schools have more than 20 different NCLB categories.
Since I don’t buy the "education must be run like a business" premise in the first place, let’s relate this back to the classroom. Show me any good teacher who uses nothing but a system of punishment to motivate their students. You won’t find one. Successful teachers, like successful business people (and good school administrators for that matter), know that it takes a mixture of carrots and sticks to motivate people to do their best. And rewards, along with developing simple pride of ownership, are usually the most effective methods.
If you read the education part of the campaign literature from both Presidential candidates, you learn that both W and Kerry advocate changes in NCLB, although neither is very specific beyond money. I would go further – toss this train wreck of a law in the garbage and start over. Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, start with revising the incredibly ridiculous system of penalties in the law. There are plenty of other problems with NCLB, but this would be a beginning. After all, beating people continuously with a stick has never worked as a motivation tool and never will.