Lisa from Brass and Ivory left me a comment asking what I thought about our nation's illustrious "No Child Left Behind" act so I decided to sound off here.
Surprisingly, I think that much of the actual ideal behind NCLB is solid. It is in the implementation and interpretations of NCLB that the problems have emerged. The act requires that teachers be "highly qualified." That means they are either certified in their content area or have completed 24 hours of college study in the subject they teach. There is nothing wrong with that. Having qualified, educated teachers in every classroom is a good thing. The greatest problem is that there is a shortage of these people and many opt out of working in low-performing schools like the one where I teach. This is especially true in math and science. We can never find people certified to teach math who want to work in our school because of our undesirable location, reputation and test scores. We always seem to end up with people who have never spent a day as a classroom teacher in their lives. Still, we hire them on an "emergency license" because we have no choice. Then, theoretically they get coached and supported but you just can't throw a teacher into the kind of school where I teach. Their inexperience is quickly evident. They have little or no control of their students. Students can rarely even hear the teacher in this environment, let alone learn. These teachers are not trained in fancy extras like "sheltered instruction" (to help ESL kids)or "differentiated instruction" (to help facilitate level-appropriate work in multi-level classes). Classes are packed to the gills (30 or more to a room) and there is rarely even another adult available to help out. So while NCLB is designed to promote equity, it actually makes the inequities more glaring.
Let me explain my last statement. At the inception of NCLB, there was a grand vision that all kids, regardless of school, race or socioeconomic background would all perform at or above grade-level. Again, not a bad sentiment at all. In order to ensure this, "standards" were created nationally and at the state level to guide teachers regarding grade-level targets. Then, it was mandated that each state offer a yearly exam to measure student progress. In Colorado we got CSAP, the bain of our existence.
I am not against the idea of standards. I am also not against standardized assessment. It is the way that assessment affects low-performing schools that upsets me. Schools are given a CSAP "grade" each year based on student performance. If a school performs too low for three years in a row, it gets taken over. In an age of "school choice," the families that can afford to, send their kids to high-performing schools outside their neighborhoods if a good neighborhood school does not exist. Busing ended here several years ago and now we are watching our urban schools sink back into racial and socioeconomic segregation. High performing schools continue to attract more affluent families while low-perfoming schools serve those who have no options. Our scores are down this year and my school now is 100% free and reduced lunch.
Each year an enormous amount of money gets spent on the CSAP program. I feel that this money could be better utilized by fully funding NCLB. No one knows exactly what full funding would look like but when I am queen of the universe, there are several ways I would spend the money.
As queen, I would make classes of 30 into classes of 15. I would make sure that there were more homogenous classes with fewer different levels in one room. I would hire aides for every classroom that needed them. I would offer remediation classes to those who needed remediation in a specific area instead of worrying about how that might hurt test scores (I actually think it might help). Schools would not receive a public grade or report card. Test data would just be shared with teachers, students and administration in a district so they could see how they needed to improve. I would split property taxes at the state level instead of the district level so that those who live in poor communities would have as much money spent on their education as those in a wealthier area. All teachers would get the coaching and support they need. We would have enough texts for every kid in the room. Administrators would have more support so they could support us and no teacher would ever feel isolated or ignored.
Perhaps not all of the ideas in NCLB need to be tossed out. I would hedge that the system just needs to be funded and adjusted.