NCLB In The Real World

A few weeks ago Jay Mathews asked his readers to send him real life examples of the effects of the No Child Left Behind laws. In his online column last week, Jay related some of the anacdotes he received. As you might expect, there were a variety of stories, good and bad.

One common thread from many of the teachers who wrote was the loss of time for many creative teaching techniques and activities that inject motivation and enrichment into the curriculum. Instead of field trips, lessons involving practical applications, and even recess, more time in the school day is spent drilling for standardized tests. Even subjects which many people consider "core" such as geography, languages, science and fine arts have been cut back in favor of test prep.

And then there are the unintended consequences of declaring a school to be a “failure”.

Tim O’Mara, who teaches at a middle school in New York City, said the size of his school’s sixth grade increased 20 percent because of students transferring in from a struggling school. This means a bigger work load for him and less chance of his school meeting the new achievement targets. "Don’t get me wrong," he said. "My colleagues and I treat these kids with the respect they deserve and do our best to honor their individual needs. We just wish the powers that be would do the same for us."

Jacqui Cebrian had the same experience in her third grade in south Chicago. Her kids were doing well and the school was improving until transfers from a nearby school poured in. "You now have two schools failing instead of only one," she said. Bonnie Sue Stein, a parent in New York City, said transfers raised the average class size at her daughter’s school from 23 to 29. Her daughter, she said, "was taken aback by the increase of kids, and the lack of space."

Or maybe the results are not so unintended.