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Education Students Children
For the Children
When it was first initiated, the No Child Left Behind Act was intended to make schools accountable for the education of their students. This federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act was supposed to improve the quality of education for all children in the United States. This paper shows, however, that in many school districts, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has had the opposite effect. This is especially true for schoolchildren in rural areas. As a result schoolchildren, many with special needs, are increasingly left behind in rural school districts with worsening educational problems.
The No Child Left Behind Act, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was signed by President Bush in 2002 thus creating it into law. The law gave each state responsibility over the performance of the students, periodically checking with use of standardized tests, thus improving the quality of American education. The federal government has set $58.3 billion in funding supporting this Act in the 2005-2006 academic year (“US Department of Education”).
The goal for this Act was to improve the proficiency of student in subjects such as math and reading, by the 2014 school year. To ensure this, school districts would present a yearly progress report. This applied to every student including those with learning disabilities and students of English as a Second Language.
Schools that do not show progress or fail to present higher test scores will be subject to sanctions. The teachers as well as the principals of these schools will be replaced, removed, or suspended. Funding from the Federal government can be withheld from these schools. Additionally the state government has the power to take over underperforming schools with the No Child Left Behind Act (“US Department of Education”).
The No Child Left Behind Act uses test given annually to adequately measure improvement. These tests are respectively administered to all children from grades 3 to 8. The results of these tests give educators a feasible goal to strive for. This type of testing gives the evaluators a uniform method of assessing the improvement in reading and math skills.
The NCLB Act is obviously built on good intentions. It recognizes the achievement gap" that exists between privileged students, the disadvantaged, and often minority students. After all, statistics have shown that American education is slowly being segregated according to ethnic, racial and class lines. This “achievement gap” is seen in the higher drop-out rates, lower graduation rates, lower SAT scores and generally poorer academic performance among minority children and children from lower-income school districts (Farkas). Unfortunately, many of these lower-income school districts are located in rural areas.
The No Child Left Behind Act supposedly addresses this achievement gap by monitoring the school districts’ general performance through standardized testing scores. These tests measure knowledge in critical areas such as science, mathematics and reading. In schools with a large population of disadvantaged students, the law requires states to make yearly progress reports. Schools that have been identified as "needing improvement" will then be required to make "adequate progress" in a maximum of two years.
If no progress is made, then states will impose series of corrective actions, such as replacement of personnel. In many cases, schools where students fail to show improvements in test scores will lose federal funding. The disadvantaged students in underperforming schools will thus be given an option to use federal funding to transfer to higher-performing schools. This "choice" option allows students from an underperforming school to transfer to a school that is deemed as "better" (US Department of Education).
The NCLB Act uses several measures that places a heavy burden on school districts. First, districts are supposed to conduct Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports. These reports must show that groups such as the major racial and ethnic groups and ESL students, must meet “proficient” levels of achievement. These numbers will be determined on a state level rather than by district or county (Linn and Baker).
Second, the NCLB Act requires that all schools ensure that teachers are “Highly Qualified.” NCLB requires that all teachers should have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and that they are certified to teach in their subject. They should demonstrate additional capability by earning a graduate degree or by passing a “rigorous” exam. The Act requires the school districts to keep parents informed of their schoolteacher’s qualifications. The school districts should also let parents know if their children will be taught by an under qualified teacher, for more than eight weeks (Linn and Baker).
To address this problem of the achievement gap, the government has instituted reforms that put the responsibility of improvement on the educators themselves. The NCLB Act has increased the demands on teachers, in terms of their work and responsibilities. Teachers are also required to go through more tests and evaluations, and to take expensive courses to earn their certification (Steptoe). The NCLB Act also increases the amount of non-academic work that is required from school districts which are already strained by budget cuts and other requirements.
The NCLB Act requires all school districts to live up to accountability requirements and proficiency exams. Analysts have point out the difficulties these requirements raise for school districts in general. For rural school districts, however, the stakes are even higher. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of all schoolchildren in the United States attend public schools in rural areas (Reeves). This means that 49 percent of all school districts in the country, almost half, are classified as rural schools (Darling). These statistical figures include school districts with a less than 2500 student population and are generally located far outside metropolitan areas.
For schoolchildren, there are many advantages to receiving an education in a rural school district. Compared to their urban counterparts, class sizes in rural schools are in general much smaller. There is greater interaction between the administrative staff and with students.
Average enrollment figures in a rural school numbers 400 students, about 35 percent less than urban school figures where the enrollment averages 643 (Reeves). There is also a difference in the number of schools per district in urban and rural areas. While urban and suburban school districts can consist of hundreds of individual schools, rural districts are generally made up of one or two schools. There is also a lower teacher to student ratio in rural schools.
These characteristics have made rural education ideal for its resident schoolchildren however it has made it harder for rural school districts to meet the requirements of the NCLB Act.
Funding for school districts are largely-based on enrollment figures. This method poses a special challenge for rural and smaller school districts. Many rural areas are experiencing population flight, as more residents relocate to the suburbs or to cities. This flight only worsens the funding dilemma of rural schools, which additionally contend with a limited tax base due to under-population and poverty (Steptoe).
The smaller population, declining enrollment and limited tax base pose problems for rural school districts trying to recruit and retain teachers. Already, rural school teachers are paid, on average, 17 percent less than their counterparts in urban and suburban schools. Rural schoolteachers are also far less likely to receive even basic benefits, like medical and dental insurance and retirement planning (Steptoe).
Fulfilling the education requirements needed to maintain certification places added burdens on teachers. Rural educators point out given their population, rural teachers are expected to be flexible in their teaching areas. The teacher expertise requirements have negatively impacted on this flexibility. Many teachers have to drive over an hour to their workplaces due to the remoteness of many rural areas. The additional paperwork further lengthens the day many of these teachers spend away from home (Harriman). These difficulties make it difficult to attract or retain qualified teachers to rural districts.
There are also additional expenses that many rural educators and school districts are unprepared to shoulder. Graduate school courses and test preparations are expensive. In many rural school districts, teachers live hours away from the nearest university. Additionally, the NCLB Act generates a quagmire of required paperwork, which takes more time away from teaching. A rural educator also observes that “the only benefactors are big businesses that sell NCLB approved reading programs, and companies that produce testing materials or have been hired to take over public schools” (Harriman).
Using NCLB for student subgroups with disabilities poses an additional set of dilemmas for rural schools. Due to the economics of scale, rural school districts spend more per pupil in comparison to their urban and suburban counterparts. Arranging for special transportation for students with disabilities is already a financial struggle for many schools in these rural settings. Additionally, it is impractical for many rural school districts to hire specialized staffmembers such as counselors for the one or two students who show evidence of learning disabilities or emotional disturbance (Darling).
Many special educators have shown dissatisfaction with the assessment tools used by NCLB. While alternative test methods exist for students with disabilities, they are usually inappropriate for the grade level being assessed. One instructor claimed, “We’re scoring kids on the developmental benchmarks for 5 year olds when many…are functioning at a developmental level of 6 months or less” (Harriman).
Even with its many limitations, many educators agree on the importance of using accountability measures for school districts and performance assessments for schoolchildren. However, NCLB is a poor tool for this goal. Many analysts and educators have proposed alternate methods for measuring these educational outcomes.
(Hager et al) for example, recommend assessment tools based on mastery rather than progress. This means that instead of measuring progress, the assessment tools should measure whether or not students master “useful skills.” For example, if a problem requires several steps to complete, a mastery-based assessment would see whether a student can fulfill all the required steps towards arriving at a solution. Mastery-based assessments also have the additional advantage of being easier to standardize.
These inadequate assessment methods also have implications for teaching. Previously, teachers were able to vary their instructional methods and assessments in ways that best meet the needs of their students. The NCLB Act, however, takes this freedom away from educators and essentially makes it the command of government authorities.
Other educators go further and ask lawmakers to repeal the NCLB for a variety of reasons. Many believe that the NCLB is not a true assessment of academic progress. The tests do not assess true mastery of useful skills, such as a child’s ability in reading comprehension. The bulk of the costs from disaggregating classes, hiring new teachers and fulfilling certification requirements for current teachers, fall on school districts or the teachers themselves (Harriman).
Others attack the administration for the unrealistic goals raised by NCLB. The law basically asks that test scores be increased by up to 100 percent, or the school districts get the blame. However, this level of improvement is not always possible, especially for children with disabilities. A child’s difficulties in school can be caused by numerous factors, such as difficult childhoods.
The NCLB Act is basically a universal remedy, a program which does little to address the root problems that affect children. For example, Congress could work to address the inadequate salaries that make it difficult for districts to attract and retain educators. Since 1972, the salaries of teachers have failed to keep up with rising inflation rates. This situation is even more acute for educators in rural areas, where more out-of-field teaching assignments, fewer advanced course options and less experienced teaching staff (Steptoe).
Rural school districts have the potential to benefit from the NCLB Act, through higher accountability standards and standardized requirements. However, these school districts are already burdened by the lack of funding and the diminishing student enrollment. They are also facing difficulty attracting and keeping qualified teachers, who take on increasing responsibilities amid modest pay. The NCLB Act therefore sets up difficult dilemmas for school districts that are already struggling.
The NCLB Act has very noble goals to improve student learning and to make schools accountable for their students’ progress. Unfortunately, the program has also generated numerous problems, especially for rural school districts. Inequality in education and the achievement gap are two issues that the NCLB Act does not address.
Because the Act focuses on holding individual schools responsible for test scores, it does not consider countless other social factors where problems like the achievement gap for disadvantaged students derive from. The result is a continuation of the current education system, where smaller and rural school districts are plagued by financial shortages, diminishing enrollment and a shortage of teachers. By proposing simple answers to a complex problems, the NCLB Act effects only cosmetic changes, while leaving the foundations of the educational problems intact.
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Farkas, George. Blackwell Synergy August 2003. "Racial disparities and discrimination in education." Teachers College Record. <www.blackwell-synergy.com>.
Hager, Karen et al. “Using alternate assessment to improve educational outcomes.” Rural Special Education Quarterly. 24.1(2005): 54-60.
Harriman, Nancy. “Peceptions of students and educators on the impact of No Child Left Behind: Some will and some won’t.” Rural Special Education Quarterly. 24.1(2005): 64-70.
Linn RL and Baker, EL. “Accountability systems: Implications of requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001." Educational Researcher. 31.6 (2005): 3-16.
Reeves, C. "Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: Implications for rural school districts." North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.January 2003. November 20, 2006 <www.ncrel.org>
Steptoe, Sonja, and Claudia Wallis. “How to Fix No Child Left Behind.” Time. 4 June 2007. 34-41. SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source. Pasadena City College, Shatford Lib. 17 November 2007. <http://www.sirs.com>
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