What exactly is No Child Left Behind?
Public Law 107 -110, which is more commonly known as "No Child Left Behind" is a law that President Bush put into effect in 2001 that states that all states have to make standards and then test their children to make sure that they are learning those standards. The law also states that each year, more and more children have to pass the tests, until the year 2014 when ALL children will be expected to be passing. Every year that schools don't raise the number of students who pass the tests, the school is labeled as "failing" and will be greatly penalized.
For most people the name of the law, and the idea that all children are expected to pass the tests sounds like a wonderful idea. In reality there are good things that are part of the law, but they are either overshadowed by the bad things, or by the way the the law is implemented. For example, part of the law is mandatory help for children who are not on grade level. That is a good point. Sadly though, the law doesn't allow for the funds and time to do this, so many schools are now taking time out of their day to have the teachers teach the tutoring classes. Since teachers also have to teach remedial classes during the day to help raise the scores of the children who are struggling, there is less time for the teachers to teach the core curriculum. So many schools have stopped teaching subjects like history, science, social studies and geography because they aren't tested. Even math has taken a back seat because, at least at the moment, the children are doing better on the math tests than on the language tests.
What's even more frustrating is that the more a school fails, the more sanctions are placed on it. You will hear some people state that failing schools "get money thrown at them" and it may appear to be the case to the outside eye, but in reality it is a curse, not a blessing. You see that money comes with ridiculously strong ties. Failing schools are forced to use scripted programs. The extra money they receive is only for these programs and for people to ensure that the program is being followed exactly.
You might say to yourself, "Well, if the school is failing, it is because the teachers don't know how to teach and so giving them a script to follow will ensure that some form of decent education is getting to the children." I would agree, if that was truly the case, but you see there are many reasons why schools are failing and often it has more to do with problems outside the school than inside.
Now before you write me off as someone who is just making excuses, I need to state that I do believe that most, if not all, children can learn. The problem is that all children are different, and have different needs. As a teacher I need to be able to adapt my curriculum for those needs. For example, I teach in an extremely poor area. Some of my students do not have beds. They don't even have mattresses or pajamas. So when we read a story about a child putting on his pajamas and going to bed, unless I pre-teach, (go over what a bed and pajamas are before reading the text), my students won't understand the story. Yet the scripted program does not allow for this. If I am pre-teaching and one of the "coaches" comes into my classroom, I will be written up for 'non-compliance with the core curriculum.'
Another problem NCLB doesn't address is transient rates. In poor areas people move a lot. In my district it is not uncommon for children to be in three or four schools in one year. Many teachers end the year with a completely different set of children than they started the year with, yet when the end of the year tests come along, a school's and teacher's credibility is based on the scores. How misleading is that?
Moreover, poorer areas have more drug abuse, lack of prenatal care, lack of nutritional awareness, (If I only had a nickel for each bag of hot cheetos my students have eaten for breakfast), lack of family stability, lack of parental education, (often in my area only a few parents in a classroom are literate in ANY language)... Don't get me wrong, I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT these are excuses to give up on children as people have in the past, but they are also the very reasons why we can't script programs either. Teachers need to be able to adapt their teaching methods to meet the specific needs of their students, and we must accept that. Especially in the early years, teachers need to be able to differentiate their instruction to fill in any of the gaps that children may have in their knowledge.
Additionally, whatever the socio-economic background, throughout the country, there are two main failing subgroups; English learners and learning disabled children. Are we really surprised? How can we expect someone who is learning something to be as proficient as someone who already has a basic mastery of it? The whole situation screams of injustice when we realize that to be labeled as an English learner a child is tested; their low score earns them the label. As soon as a child becomes proficient he is 'redesignated' as "English proficient" and his scores no longer count in the English learner subgroup any longer.
Similarly, to be labeled as "learning disabled" children must score so poorly on certain standardized tests that there is a three year discrepancy between their chronological age and his academic proficiency. Is it then truly a statement about a teacher, school, or district when six months later that very same child doesn't score as well on another standardized test as the other children in their grade?
Moreover, the program looks at only ONE test that was taken in five consecutive days, (at least here in CA), to determine how well a school is doing. It does not take into consideration how far the child has personally come, what personally is happening in the student's life, or how long that child has actually been in that particular school.
Lastly, there are educational sanctions placed on schools when they don't "pass". Failing schools lose more and more money each year that they are labeled as "failing". Last year my school had $200 per classroom to buy all the paper, pencils, erasers, zero copies, printer cartridges, ...and so on that it needed, (forget things like balls for PE and recess we haven't seen those in a long while). This year it was lowered to $100. How can we expect all children to succeed when the teachers, especially of our poorest and most needy, aren't given the means to supply them with basic learning supplies?