January 2012
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No Child Left Behind: Where Are We Ten Years Later?

By Sasha Panaram

On December 16, 2011, The Atlantic published an article, “The Mess of No Child Left Behind,” examining the progress or lack thereof of the No Child Left Behind act introduced ten years ago.

Asserting that NCLB will not meet its ambitious 2014 goals, Atlantic writer Brian Resnick said that, “No Child Left Behind is in shambles.”

As the article makes known, part of the reason NCLB cannot meet its goals is because its goals were impossible from the start. The main goal – to make all schools proficient by 2014 – is becoming increasingly difficult to do, especially as the stats show that more and more schools keep missing the mark each year.

And what exactly is the “mark?” Hard to say especially since each state sets its own standards. With no consistent scale to measure each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress, it is impossible to accurately assess schools in comparison to each other.

Moreover, with the introduction of waivers into the system that allow certain schools to avoid sanctions while submitting reports containing favorable data that make them more appealing, it is impossible to know what counts as succeeding. Though these waivers have the benefit of allowing schools to create their own standards within an NCBL framework, one begins to wonder what happens if schools are not granted any such waivers.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post shared educator of 24 years in Oakland, California, Andy Cody’s response to this question in his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.

Cody claims that 39 states have not applied for the waiver yet and if they do not do so by 2014, they will be considered failing. One of the many problems concerning this statistical fact is how will Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, convince these 39 states to apply if he has already publically declared that NCLB is a broken law?

Last spring, on March 9, 2011, Duncan said of NCLB:

“This law is fundamentally broken and we need to fix it this year. It has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We want to get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair, flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk.

“We need a common-sense law that strikes the right balance between accountability and flexibility — and the basic problem is that NCLB got it backwards. Instead of being tight on the goals and loose on the means of achieving them, the law is loose on the goals but tight on the means. We need to flip that and states are already leading the way.”

Cody concludes his post saying that although Duncan will probably “solve” the problem concerning waivers by proposing a compromise, Duncan’s predicament indicates how the “federal government has made itself irrelevant to real school reform.”

According to this educator of 24 years, when NCLB was first proposed, it utilized rhetoric regarding civil rights and equal opportunities. But in the last ten years what newspapers, television shows, documentaries, and speeches have shown is that there has been a “systematic shift towards greater economic and racial segregation.”

Cody proposes that the government no longer “force” schools to improve using penalties for low scores. Instead all people invested in a child’s education – teachers, parents, students – should work together to revive and reestablish American education, even if that means working on a case-by-case or school-by-school model.

NCLB has caused a world of damage and created a list of impossibilities. As Resnick states, “It’s a mess” and it’s fairly easy to see why. But as Cody proposes there is much to be learned from how the government chose to approach this educational crisis.

If we could use the NCLB’s failures to create a system that encourages all parts of society to foster innovative educational practices, then maybe, just maybe, we could give schools the flexibility they need to succeed with the societal support they want that allows them to keep advancing.














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