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Back in 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. This acts main goal is to help improve the achievement levels for at-risk and minority students, therefore giving each child a proper education. This was to be done through federal funds and guidelines that were to be given to the local schools. When this act was passed, it created a lot of controversy. In the following pages, the issues that this act created and how it was to be used will be explained.
The goal the No Child Left Behind Act promised was that liberals were to increase spending and focus more on the minority student achievement. It offered conservatives enhanced school choice and tougher standards. Conservatives soon balked at NCLB’s exorbitant price tag and federal meddling. Utah gave Bush 72 percent of its vote in 2004, his highest margin in any state (Antel, 2005.) In April, the Republican-controlled legislature voted to assign a higher priority to the state’s accountability laws than NCLB. Risking Utah’s $76 million federal education funding, the Republican governor signed the bill. The Connecticut Association of School Superintendents also backs the attorney general. In all, officials in more than 40 states have proposed significant changes to the implementation of NCLB.
The National Education Association (NEA) and three states are already fighting it in court. The fact that the Federal Education Department makes 50% of the rules and provides not even 7% of education spending is one of the major complaints against them. If the state won’t work to closing this gap which is required by NCLB, Utah will be leaving the Hispanic’s behind. Standardized test scores revealed comparable discrepancies between Connecticut’s black and white students. But Connecticut education officials retort that the law doesn’t take into consideration the state’s demographics. The mainly white suburban schools are performing will above the national average which in turn is hurting the performance gap between blacks (Antel, 2005.)
Maybe the NCLB is naïve in assuming that all schools and all students will make unacceptable progress towards demonstrating proficiency, just as many educators are naive in assuming that all students should enter their classes performing at grade level. Maybe the NCLB does overestimate the capacity of states, school systems, and schools to implement the law, just as many schools overestimate the capacity of some educators to teach effectively with limited content knowledge (Mizell, 2003.) For years and years, policy makers and school officials have been turning a blind eye to major problems in the public education system. This is one of the reasons why the NCLB exists today. Communities were willing to have persistently low-performing schools so long as the children of the community's economic, political, and social power structure did not have to attend those schools (Mizell, 2003.) In turn what they were doing was setting up a segregated school system.
Some consider the law malevolent. People are now responding to the NCLB in one of three ways. A staff member of a school reform organization believes the law stems from "a conspiracy by the Bush administration to start handing education over to private corporations." Many educators believe the NCLB sets unreasonable expectations that schools cannot meet and this will provide ammunition for those who advocate vouchers and other alternatives to public education (Mizell, 2003.) Another view is that the NCLB "could dismantle a public school system," because it applies to both small and large schools. The children attending the small school are performing well. The children at the larger schools are not performing as well as the smaller schools. Still another perspective is that the law seeks to undermine public education because it does not provide adequate funding to support all the changes the NCLB requires (Mizell, 2003.) There should be significantly more funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, but waiting for the school system to declare that they have enough money to do so is hurting the children.
Yes, there is criticism of the NCLB. Teachers have the tendency to lower their own expectation of their role because they are focusing so much on the regulations of the NCLB. Many believe that the educators should be in charge of the day-to-day practices that cause all students to dramatically improve their academic performance. The law's potential is not in the details of its implementation, but it causes educators to finally devote their time and attention to serious problem of teacher quality and student performance (Mizell, 2008.)
The third type of response to the NCLB is largely hypothetical. People are speaking about using some creativity to have the law improve teacher quality and enable the students to become more proficient, instead of just implementing the law. Implementing the law and using the law are not the same. Efforts to implement the law focus on minimums, the least effort required to demonstrate compliance. The Task Force now includes 28 practitioners from 26 states representing state departments of education, intermediate education service agencies, local school systems, a few schools, and teacher unions (Mizell, 2003.) In order to prompt states and school systems to improve their quality in professional development, the Task Force members have come up with a variety of provisions to help.
According to one Task Force member this can "help to focus our schools on quality staff development AND the processes we support -- data-driven decision making, improving teacher knowledge and skills, leadership development, monitoring and reflection (Mizell, 2003.)"
While Task Force members are hopeful about the impact of the NCLB, they are also thinking about how states and school systems will respond to the law. Some believe that some of these school systems and schools will not be able to meet the deadline. This idea presented the states and school systems with a great opportunity to demonstrate creative leadership (Mizell, 2003.) States and school systems will then need to use some strategies that will result in teachers whose practice, as well as credentials, demonstrate they are highly qualified.
Schools can choose to embrace the challenge of NCLB. There are other opportunities to use the NCLB creatively. School systems do not have to merely go through the motions of disaggregating student achievement data (Mizell, 2003.) Some fear that the School systems will just duck their heads and hope that neither the state nor the federal government will expect them to take seriously the NCLB's definition of professional development.
The Bush administration has deployed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a former White House aide close to the president, to quell the grassroots revolt (Antel, 2005.) School districts in the state will now have to have 45 special-education students in order for the federal government to monitor them as a subgroup under the law; last year it was just 40. This means that state resistance may elicit greater federal flexibility, but not seriously jeopardize NCLB. Marie Gryphon, an education policy analyst for the Cato Institute, worries “that the state rebellion against NCLB will end with a whimper, not a bang (Antel, 2005.)”
Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, points out that state legislation opting out of NCLB is still largely symbolic. According to Education-policy experts, being able to preserve accountability but still offer flexibility is a major issue at hand (Antel, 2005.)
Although the Act mandates annual testing for all states by 2005-2006, it does not provide federal standards for testing practices, which means that each state can test in their own way. Some states test reading and math every year. Others test those subjects every three or four years, and others test a variety of subjects in a variety of grades (Wenning, 2003.)
Whether or not states use norm referenced or criterion referenced tests is one major difference between the testing practices. Norm-referenced tests assess a student’s broad knowledge, measuring performance against a relevant comparison group (Wenning, 2003.) When and what subjects are tested is an example of the flexibility states have. By 2005-2006, states must annually measure student achievement against state academic and achievement standards. They will be measuring this achievement in grades three through eight in mathematics and reading or language arts. Definitions of “proficiency” can vary from state to state (Wenning, 2003.)
NCLB extends federally mandated testing to a wider population by reaching all student groups, not just those served by Title I. Testing requirements cover all K-12 public school students and those who attend charter schools. Further, state assessments must be the same within each state, local education agency (LEA), and school by student demographic subgroups. These groups include students who are economically disadvantaged, have disabilities, have a limited English proficiency, and are from a different racial or ethnic group and gender. NCLB includes students with disabilities and LEP students under its testing and accountability provisions and because of this reason they reinforce prior federal requirements for reasonable accommodations that they need to achieve that outcome. When students’ scores are added to look for an improving school performance, not all students’ scores will count equally. But all students who attend that school must participate in the testing (Wenning, 2003.).
Each state must establish a baseline for measuring the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state’s proficiency level of academic achievement. The state must use the higher of either the proficiency level of the state’s lowest-achieving group or the proficiency level of the students at the 20th percentile in the state. In order to attain proficiency, the States must develop a 12-year plan for all students. States may establish a uniform procedure for averaging data over multiple years and across grades in a school (Wenning, 2003.) One thing that is very confusing for the school districts is the measurement of progress required by NCLB. By mandating annual testing of entire school populations, NCLB creates an opportunity, but not an obligation, to measure the progress made by cohorts of students over time (Wenning, 2003.)
In conclusion, the choice is up to local school officials and educators. Maybe the leaders of school systems and schools will use the law as "cover," to justify reforms they knew were necessary but for which they previously lacked political support or intestinal fortitude. If educators can gain that perspective, and hold on to it as they wrestle with the NCLB, they may choose to use it creatively to hold their states, school systems, schools, and themselves to standards of performance far exceeding what the law requires. Every educator is now deciding how to respond to the NCLB (Mizell, 2003.) You are to use whatever courage you have and use your creativity to shape the NCLB in the ways necessary to raise the performance of students, teachers, and administrators.
Antle, James III. (2005). Leaving No Child Left Behind. Retrieved July 29,2008 from: http://www.amconmag.com
Mizell, Hayes. (2003). NCLB: Conspiracy, Compliance, or Creativity? Retrieved July 29, 2008 from: http://www.middleweb.com
Wenning, Richard. (2003). No Child Left Behind: Testing, Reporting, and Accountability. Retrieved July 29, 2008 from: http://www.ericdigests.org