Today is the sixth anniversary of No Child Left Behind. And Ted Kennedy, one of the original authors of the measure, thinks he knows how to fix it.
But the law still needs major changes to bring out the best in all children. The process for rating troubled schools fails to reward incremental progress made by schools struggling to catch up. Its one-size-fits-all approach encourages “teaching to the test” and discourages innovation in the classroom. We need to encourage local decision makers to use a broader array of information, beyond test scores, to determine which schools need small adjustments and which need extensive reforms.
Unfortunately, that “one-size-fits-all” approach that encourages “teaching to the test” was at the very core of NCLB when Kennedy and his bipartisan friends wrote the law, despite there being no research showing that such a philosophy works.
On top of that, they saw to it that the provisions in their bill not only discourages innovation, they penalize it.
The act doesn’t do enough to support teachers as the professionals they are by training and mentoring them and by placing good teachers in the schools that need them most.
Part of the reason why NCLB doesn’t support teachers is the watered-down concept of “highly qualified” they included.
Basically, the definition of “highly qualified” is left up to the states, most of whom set the bar pretty low in order to score 100% and avoid additional penalties from the federal government.
Most of all, the law fails to supply the essential resources that schools desperately need to improve their performance. We can’t achieve progress for all students on the cheap. No child should have to attend crumbling schools or learn from an outdated textbook, regardless of where he or she lives. It’s disgraceful that President Bush has failed to include adequate funding for school reform in his education budgets. Struggling schools can do only so much on a tin-cup budget.
Of course, a Senator is never going to blame Congress for the fact that NCLB was never fully funded. But let’s face it. As with so many other federal government programs, no one in either branch had any intention of paying the real costs.
In the end, Kennedy believes that everyone should “put progress ahead of politics and support what is working in school reform, and to work together to fix what is not”.
The problem, however, is that there is nothing anyone can propose that will fix No Child Left Behind. The law is based on too many flawed concepts and stupid ideas.
No tinkering around the edges is going to alter the fact that this is a large pile of crap that should not be allowed to continue screwing up the good schools and doing nothing for the rest.
While I don’t have a problem with having expectations for every single student, the bill is, as Sir Ken Robinson writes, trying to fix 21st century problems with a 19th century understanding.
Our whole system needs to be rethought. Tacking measurement onto a system that is already based on outdated models will do little or nothing to address the problem.
Teacher training and ongoing teacher staff development is an important issue that has been much neglected.
The social needs of our students in poverty also has been much neglected (and then cutting a program like Reading First that was actually having success is an abysmal thing).
School reform should mean rethinking our schools–rethinking the whole philosophy and structure of them.
And lastly, we need to provide facilities that are worthy of every student. We call ourselves a democracy–then we should provide equal opportunities for every student–not by allowing them to escape their rotting schools, but by giving every student beautiful learning spaces, the tools they need, and an inviting and safe place to be.
The fact that one of the worst school districts in the country(D.C.) is beneath the nose of Congress never fails to amaze me. We need to care about all of our children.