Once again Jenny D. is asking questions that generate discussion (thanks, Jenny!). This time she wants to know what would you change about No Child Left Behind (the law not the concept)? That’s easy. The law really can’t be successfully changed since two of the fundamental premises underlying the legislation are flawed.
The first problem with the ideas behind NCLB is that it puts the federal government in control of the educational programs in our schools. Of course, the text of the law doesn’t say it directly but that’s the net effect. I’m one of those who believes that we should have a national curriculum for K12 education, at least a national minimum, rather than the hodgepodge of hundreds of local curriculums. But that’s not the way the system has been established in this country.
Constitutionally, the education of our children is the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. However, NCLB with it’s system of penalties for states and schools, puts the federal government in charge. They didn’t take full responsibility, of course (they never do). But the veto power of being able to reject or demand modifications to any state plan has the same effect.
The second flaw in the concepts on which NCLB is built is even worse. The law assumes every school is the same, every classroom is the same, every teacher is the same, every student is the same. For example, under the rules, by 2016, if every third grader in a particular classroom doesn’t learn the same thing as every other third grader in the same state by the time the test rolls around in the spring, the school will be declared failing. And all the appropriate penalties will be imposed on the whole school.
It doesn’t take an educational PhD to understand that children learn at different rates and beating their teachers over the head with a test isn’t going to change that. But, the structure of grade levels used in most of our elementary schools doesn’t take that simple fact into account and the continual testing program under NCLB cements that flaw into the system. There will always be some kids who take longer to learn to read at a "third-grade level" or to do long division* than their peers.
There are other underlying problems but those two fundamental shortcomings are enough to see there is no way to alter NCLB. The only thing to be done is to kill this one-size-fits-all, train-wreck of a law. Then maybe we can begin a serious discussion of how to overhaul the basic structure of American education, a 19th century model which has not translated well into the 21st century.
* an antiquated skill that should be dropped from the math curriculum – but that’s another rant :-)