A decade on, 'No Child' law faces critics, calls for change

Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 09:34 am
September 15, 2011
A decade on, 'No Child' law faces critics, calls for change
By Hannah Vickers, Alexandra Arkin and Amarita Bansal
Medill News Service

WASHINGTON — As head of one of the largest teachers unions in the country, Randi Weingarten had high hopes for the No Child Left Behind Act when Congress passed it with overwhelming bipartisan support 10 years ago.

Where the law went wrong, Weingarten said, was in failing to provide enough money and resources to back up its new requirements. But it continued education reforms begun under President Lyndon Johnson to help low-income schools, students with special needs and kids in poverty, she said.

"Before everyone throws the baby out with the bathwater, what No Child Left Behind was attempting to do was to shine the spotlight on kids who had traditionally been left behind," said Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

"These are all good values and these are all things that need to continue."

But a decade after its passage, most educators and politicians agree that No Child Left Behind — President George W. Bush's signature education policy — isn't working. Every year, schools are expected to meet progress goals to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014. But President Barack Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, predicted that 82 percent of public schools could be labeled as failing this year.

That's led many critics to argue that the law's benchmarks are unrealistic.

"I think that given the overall damage that the law has done ... it has been a terribly destructive piece of legislation," said Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education in the George H.W. Bush administration and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It has led to a mislabeling of the majority of our schools as failing schools."

Ravitch said that the emphasis on testing for the annual goals, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, has been detrimental for schools. By focusing testing on math and reading, curriculums across the country have narrowed, cutting out the arts and civics, she argued — leading to more focus on simply preparing students for the final exam.

"The most important thing that people don't understand is that test scores (are) not the same thing as quality education, and it's not even a good stand-in for quality education," Ravitch said.

According to the Department of Education, 33 percent of all schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals in the 2008-2009 school year, and 18 percent were identified as needing improvement.

Donna Harris-Aikens, director of education policy and practice for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, said that the annual goals were based on arbitrary benchmarks.

"It would be akin to saying that everyone in a marathon has to run a specific time, regardless of your ability and regardless of whether you show up that day with a broken leg," Harris-Aikens said.

"The statute didn't take into account at all whether teachers in schools helped students jump light years ahead of where they were when they entered the classroom at the beginning of the year," she said. "It only took into account whether the student met the benchmark that the state had set."

In recent years the pressure associated with yearly testing goals has led to cheating scandals across the country. Teachers in Atlanta have recently been on the hot seat over changing students' answers to improve results in state curriculum tests that were unrelated to No Child Left Behind.

"The pressure to meet these goals has caused a number of very negative consequences," Ravitch said. "No one should cheat, it's a terrible thing to cheat, but when you create a culture and a system in which people are told 'You'll be fired if you don't get higher scores,' that's what some people do and it's terrible."

Weingarten said that there should be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to cheating, but added: "Let me just say in terms of Atlanta, the vast majority of teachers in Atlanta did not engage in that behavior ... regardless of the pressure."

With a new school year under way and no comprehensive bill addressing No Child Left Behind close to approval, the Obama administration announced in August that it was moving forward with its own plan to reform the law. Duncan said he would waive the proficiency requirements for states that are working to improve their schools and have adopted their own testing and accountability programs.

Educators share the administration's impatience, but some worry that waivers are not the way to go.

"I think what is clear is that schools and districts and states quite frankly are going to have a tough time budgeting for the next few years, so it's unclear what kind of additional money schools and districts will have to spend on any additional reform," Harris-Aikens said.

Another part of the administration's proposal would provide competitive grants to help states strengthen science, technology, engineering and math programs, or STEM. This will give support to needy districts in implementing high-quality instruction in at least math or science, and possibly also technology or engineering.

Claus von Zastrow, director of research for Change the Equation, a nonprofit initiative started by the Obama administration in 2010 to improve STEM education, noted that while No Child Left Behind was intended to get students in every state at the "proficient" level in math, science and other subjects, it did not get states to set the same definition of proficiency.

"In states that have set the bar low, the scores are meaningless," he said.

Ravitch cautioned that test score gains are not even necessarily a sign of improvement. Instead, they often just mean that students have been taught test-taking strategies.

"We see many districts where scores went up, and then kids needed remediation when they went to apply to even a community college," she said. "They didn't learn math. They didn't learn reading. They learned test-taking skills."

For Ravitch, the path forward may still involve testing but in a different way. She said that instead of punishing schools for poor performance with sanctions, testing should be used to identify those that need additional support.

"I think what Arne Duncan should be doing is saying, 'I'm going to suspend the sanctions,' because the sanctions are leading to the misidentification and closing of many schools," Ravitch said. "What he's doing instead is rewriting the law and saying 'I'll give you a waiver if you do what I want you to do.' What he wants them to do isn't any better."

Harris-Aiken remains hopeful that Congress will reauthorize the law but with some changes.

"I think without any relief whatsoever, you will continue to see schools try and jump through the hoops" to reach the annual progress goals, Harris-Aikens said. "We will continue to see narrowing of the curriculum at schools, particularly with students who are struggling. So we really do want to see reauthorization happen sooner rather than later, and we haven't given up hope that it can happen."

(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/09/15/124233/a-decade-on-no-child-law-faces.html#ixzz1Y87fqciJ
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Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 10:11 am
"Before everyone throws the baby out with the bathwater, what No Child Left Behind was attempting to do was to shine the spotlight on kids who had traditionally been left behind," said Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

I think that's what we were all led to believe. The students traditionally "left behind" are the ones living in poverty and therefore in bad neighborhoods with bad neighborhood schools. This law CUT funds to those schools.

NCLB has diverted billions of dollars from our schools and into private hands -- the companies that design, make, and score the tests.

And contrary to this article, Obama's "Race to the Top" has only made things worse.

Don't drink the tea.
Don't ride the bus.
Don't take the test.
Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 10:46 am
I've often wondered if the GOP's goals are to move all students into private schools and religious schools, putting an end to public schools.

Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 11:08 am
You aren't the only one who thinks that. I posted a thread about it the other day after reading this: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/08/31/no-child-left-behind-a-conspiracy-against-public-education-that-too-few-called-out/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog

An excerpt:

I struggled with the rest of you as to why NCLB would go to such great lengths to make public education appear to be such a failure, to set up a system that would guarantee failure for practically every public school as we advanced toward that magical 100 percent level and provide no tangible rewards for success and such punitive actions for not meeting arbitrary goals. On top of all of that, I failed to recognize why our nation’s legislators so nimbly avoided even the discussion of reauthorization to change what everyone knew was a failed policy. One day it finally hit me.

They didn’t want to change the policy, because the policy was designed in theory and in fact not to aid education but to create an image of a failed public school system in order to further the implementation of vouchers and the diversion of public education funds to private schools.

I don't think we can just point fingers at the GOP. The democrats have certainly been complicit and the public just yawns and says "oh well...."
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Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 12:31 pm
You might be interested in this investigative piece by Dan Rather for the HD Network. Video excerpts are at the link.


While our students take mandatory evaluation tests nationwide – who is evaluating the evaluators? We investigate how the grading and evaluation of national, standardized testing works – or in some cases doesn’t work. We hear from a group of whistleblowers who tell us how erratically and unfairly the tests are scored.
Reply Fri 16 Sep, 2011 02:13 pm
I've read some "whistle blower" articles about the scoring of standardized tests. It's shameful.

I think the biggest problem is that most of us were raised in this sit down, shut up, and let us pour the knowledge in culture of schooling and now nobody really thinks to question it.

I was really lucky because there was nothing better my dad liked better than rocking the boat and he taught us well.

I'll be looking forward to watching that entire video. Thanks for the link.

One of the articles I really liked was this one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-farley/standardized-testing-a-de_b_846044.html

and this one: http://www.citypages.com/2011-02-23/news/inside-the-multimillion-dollar-essay-scoring-business/
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Reply Thu 10 Dec, 2015 10:47 pm
and it's gone



President Barack Obama signed today the long-awaited overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), one of our country's most important education laws.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which tackles several issues in George W. Bush's signature 2002 education law, was approved by large, bipartisan margins in the House and the Senate. This comes as a huge relief to many education advocates, parents, students, and lawmakers who have been trying to improve the increasingly unpopular NCLB for more than a decade.

While there are still countless unanswered questions around how exactly the new mandates will be implemented and funded in states and districts, one thing is clear: The new bill reflects a growing national consensus that schools can't be fixed through one-size-fits-all solutions coming from distant, federal officials.

As I wrote in my NCLB cheat sheet last week:

The original, well-intentioned No Child Left Behind law was intended to reduce stubborn race- and class-based achievement gaps. Instead, it created a system in which American kids take more standardized, mostly multiple-choice tests than their peers in any other industrialized nation. One high school senior in Florida told me that she took 15 standardized tests last year alone. By her own estimates, she spent about three months out of every high school year taking or preparing for multiple-choice tests.

Oh, and those achievement gaps haven't budged at all since NCLB went into effect. While racial gaps have narrowed slightly since 2001, they remain stubbornly large. The gaps in math and reading for African American and Latino students shrank far more dramatically before No Child Left Behind—when policies focused on equalizing funding and school integration, rather than on test scores. In the 1970s and '80s, the achievement gap between black and white 13-year-olds was cut roughly in half nationwide.

How is the new No Child Left Behind different, and will it improve learning and close racial and class disparities in achievement?

Short answer: The big change in the new bill is that it significantly reduces the power and the role of the federal government in grading, reforming, and punishing schools or teachers. As I pointed out earlier:

The Every Student Succeeds Act keeps the biggest pieces of NCLB in place. Students are still required to take yearly tests in math and reading from third to eighth grade and once in high school. Schools still have to report the results of these tests by subgroups such as race, English-language proficiency, poverty, and special education. States will still be required to intervene in schools that are not meeting their goals. But they, not the federal government, will decide how to turn things around.

States, not the feds, will now be responsible for measuring students' academic progress. This means schools can ditch some standardized tests for things such as evaluations of student work and parent surveys. States and districts could theoretically use their limited money to pay local teachers—rather than education software companies—to measure kids' performance. And the federal government will no longer require using standardized-test scores to evaluate teachers, although states can chose to do that.

Will these changes improve learning and close kids' achievement gaps?

Short answer: Maybe. The new bill doesn't include all the pieces of the larger puzzle.

While these policy changes include many big steps in the right direction, including much-needed increases in funding for early childhood education, simply improving the criteria for grading schools and teachers won't necessarily lead to improved teaching and learning. Using more sophisticated ways to measure a patient's temperature doesn't automatically cure the root causes of a disease. Teachers, like doctors, need to continuously improve their craft and professional judgment so they can provide personalized teaching and address everyone's unique needs.

There are no easy answers, I wrote:

Research tells us that schools improve most when teachers are empowered. This includes reforms like increasing paid time for teachers to plan intellectually engaging lessons, letting them design their own assessments, and reflecting on student work to adjust their teaching. Successful, experienced teacher leaders need a variety of quantitative data, such as grades and attendance, and qualitative metrics like student engagement to find the root causes behind their pupils' achievement gaps.

Nationally, this sort of school-based professional development is difficult to sustain because American teachers have heavier teaching loads than educators in many other countries and little time for learning and leadership (three to five hours per week in most schools). Teachers in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, by contrast, spend 15 to 25 hours each week working to improve their craft. In theory, Every Student Succeeds calls for districts to work directly with teachers and staff to design tailored classroom reform plans. But historically such mandates have not been fully funded and have been difficult to sustain.

Most importantly, classroom reforms face the biggest obstacles in schools with large numbers of low-income kids and students of color. In the past 10 years, the per-student funding gap between rich and poor schools has grown by 44 percent. Less funding means fewer qualified teachers, larger classes, and less time for teachers to plan, learn, and lead. It's hard to imagine making any significant progress in closing our achievement and opportunity gaps when these inequities are not addressed with the same systemic attention that's been devoted to standardized test taking.

littlek has posted on FB that the schoolboard she works for immediately announced the cancellation of at least one group of standardized tests
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Reply Fri 11 Dec, 2015 12:05 pm
I know this isn't bad news and I'm hoping that it's good news but only time will tell.

Little K was once in favor of NCLB. I remember because I was so surprised by it. That was back when a lot of people really believed the intentions were good. I believed the intentions were good -- closing the gap between rich and poor schools, but I never thought such a top down approach would work and I never thought the assessments were valid, or really even informational.

After years of starvation, Oregon is finally spending some money on schools. I hope they spend it wisely now that they have more control over where it goes.
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