Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Problems With No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

For most Americans looking in from the outside at public education, there is a lot of disgust. The knee jerk reaction has been to criticize public school standards, or teachers themselves. In 2002, largely in response to this, President George W. Bush signed into law, in collaboration with Senator Ted Kennedy, the No Child Left Behind Act. The major stated goal of this program is that 100% of students across the nation will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Each year, Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) are set by each state in math and reading by grade-level. A School’s Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) is met when all subgroups and all grade levels meet their AMOs. In Maryland, the AMO for reading in fifth grade was 71.8% and 69.1% in math. AMOs incrementally increases annually until every student is required to score proficient or advanced in math and reading in 2014. States are forced to disaggregate data into nine subgroups for evaluation. Each subgroup in each grade level must meet the AMOs or the entire school fails to meet AYP. For beginners, there are five major problems with NCLB.

First, the idea that 100% of a school’s population will pass reading and math standards is like mandating world peace by 2014. We all know that there are many elements that play into the success of a child. Students spend approximately 90% of their lives outside of school in their K-12 years. 10% cannot compete with the influences of 90%. That is why family and community are so important. NCLB is fundamentally flawed because of this. What happens in 2014 when not one public school in the nation meets the standard?

Next, a school’s progress is not measured as a whole student body, but broken into subgroups. Each subgroup must meet their AMOs. English Language Learners (ELL), Special Education, etc., all must meet AMO in order for the school to meet AYP. Here is the problem. Let’s say you are in a school with three ELL students in the fourth grade. If one fails to pass, then AYP is not met because that subgroup is only at 67% passing. One student throws the entire school into chaos. Now apply this logic to special education students. Here we have students who have documented disabilities. They must pass as a subgroup as well in each grade level.

Third, states are free to develop their own assessments. Yes, In Maryland, we use the Maryland State Assessment (MSA). Florida and Virginia develop their own tests. Therefore, there is absolutely no way to compare the educational programs of one state with another. This is basic data manipulation. One state claims success, but the reality is they are assessing on different levels. Their students could actually be doing worse if a valid comparison is used.

Fourth, getting back to subgroups, each state gets to decide how many members of a particular subgroup are necessary to count the results. This is called the N-Value. In Maryland, this mystical number is five. In Maryland public schools, if any subgroup has more five or more students, then that subgroup is counted. So, let’s say one school has four ESL students and all four fail to pass. Well, it doesn’t matter, the subgroup is too small to count and those students are left behind. Here’s the problem, states get to decide what their N-Value will be. Maryland has the lowest N-Value, which means they are counting just about all of their students. The next highest N-Value is 15, and Virginia’s is 70! Basically, Virginia is not counting their students who would reflect poorly on their public school system. There is again no validity and how states meet NCLB requirements.

Finally, NCLB is not fully funded. Basically, the federal government is telling all public school systems what standards they have to meet, but providing no support in achieving it. They can talk the talk, but not walk the walk.

Now, if you are thinking…thanks Mr. President, you failed again; then you need to know that NCLB is nothing more than an extension and modification of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act originally adopted in 1965. NCLB is not new; it just has a new name. And guess what? Barrack Obama is likely to reauthorize it again with a new name and a few more modifications. In fact, he might not even change the name. After all, this is the brainchild of Senator Ted Kennedy as much as George W. Bush.

That aside, I don’t believe the law should be scrapped. There are a lot of legitimate problems with NCLB, as I have just outlined. But there is also a lot of unsupported criticism floating around. Despite its problems, schools have greatly improved across the country. The sense of accountability does exist in the nation’s public school systems where it did not before. President Barrack Obama needs to gather experts in the field of education to work out the kinks. However, it’s never going to be perfect because there is no perfect solution. There will always be students, for a variety of reasons, which will not meet math and reading standards. Simply increasing the rigor of graduation requirements does not solve that problem, even though it feels good to demand. Some kids just don’t have what it takes. But I tell you what; there is nothing more valuable to Americans than a trustworthy auto mechanic, contractor, landscaper, etc. But, it is political suicide for anyone in any type of position of power to say so. So instead, we have mandated that no child will be left behind by 2014.


Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph say it all. Although most educators and school-system administrators do not like NCLB, without it there would not have been any improvements in schools throughout the country. Everyone would have just keep on doing the same old thing that was not working. If nothing else it has forced school systems to make evaluate their programs and make changes that have improved our country's educational system, even if some will only be an auto mechanic. Because of NCLB they will be a better auto mechanic.

Bryan said...

So now that schools are on the right track, we need to make changes to NCLB to keep it from self-destructing.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, All plans need to be self evaluated and modified continuously to ensure they stay on track to meet their intended goals. All plans must evolve as mistakes will be made and it is learned what does and does not work. When this is the case new strategies are developed that keep the intended goals on target.