Reforming No Child Left Behind Essays Examples
The economic competitiveness of any country is dependent on their ability to maintain highly educated populace while at once ensuring equity and balanced development. No Child left Behind (NCLB) is designed to create a national minimum standard in the US public education system by necessitating states to institute accountability systems. It is easily one of the most ambitious and systematic reviews of the federal education systems since the passing of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (1965). The policy seeks to ensure that students in public schools achieved important learning goals and were educated by qualified teachers and in safe classrooms. Most importantly, NCLB aims at closing the gaps between economically privileged children and students from racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, as well as those who are disabled. While NCLB tries to reduce the achievement gaps that parallel class and race, this paper argues that the policy’ standardized testing and arbitrary accountability requirements introduce unhealthy rigidities, while too many unintended consequences threaten any gains that have already been made. This paper makes a case for greater flexibility and waivers to states and a possible decentralization in education policy-making.
The primary provision of NCLB is the requirement for yearly state-level student testing, accountability to the public and multiple mandated sanctions for schools that come short of the required progress along the state performance benchmarks. This was intended to focus federal education policy attention from inputs to student achievement and results. States are required to test children in every grade between third and eighth grade, as well as once in high school for math and reading proficiency. The results are to report on the progress of several underprivileged population groups (e.g. ethnic minorities and the poor) as a way of ensuring good performance by groups that have been systematically marginalized in the education system. However, there’s a major structural difficulty in this arrangement, not least because the framework of the accountability system is set by the Department of Education, while the state education authorities retain control of the state level performance tests and measures. Effectively, rather than setting unreachable goals, some states have opted to lower standards in order to escape federal sanctions. The policy’s intention to introduce transparency standardized achievement and public accountability has in turn created incentives for cheating by the states, which ensures that the core goals of NCLB are never met.
Further, the policy’s focus on the make-or-break yearly tests has had the unintended consequence of schools and teachers drilling students in order that they post good results. This is counterproductive, especially since it does not lead to the improvement in the quality of education, but only in the perceived quality of education. As president Obama outfit recently, “weighing a pig multiple times does not make it fatter”. Even most importantly, the focus on the arbitrary performance measure (coupled with federal sanctions) has also proven to the detriment of the schools and children that NCLB sought to uplift in the first place. This is not least because schools with huge student populations and poor facilities have been more likely to fall short of the performance benchmarks (and thus attract sanctions) compared to schools with small student population and better facilities. In this way, the NCLB serves to punish the very institutions that it is supposed to help.
The first measure to fix the failings of NLCB is to fix the faulty performance appraisal and sanction system that has resulted in the distortions in the system. This is expected since according to Yip and Hult (2011), a faulty performance appraisal and reward system lead to the misdirection of efforts away from the core organizational objectives. To begin with, the expansion of waivers available to states to allow them to close achievement gaps by pursuing comprehensive programs that would ultimately benefit the poor and underprivileged student populations. State waivers will allow state governments to assume full responsibility in investing in the right quality programs, as against having to pretend to meet the 2014 deadline and other federal benchmarks. Eliminating the necessity for states to lower performance benchmarks for compliance purposes and education stakeholders drilling students just to pass yearly exams would create incentives for genuine investment in quality improvement and equity. However, this will only be possible if the waivers do not result in complacency on the part of the state governments.
It is expected (and generally true) that state governments share in the federal government’s goal of bolstering education standards and ensuring equity not only in education, but across the population as well. Effectively, state governments should be trusted to adopt and implement programs to ensure college and career-ready benchmarks. According to the White House (2015), in order for the states to get waivers, they must implement accountability systems to recognize and reward best performing schools as well as those that make good progress, while at once targeting comprehensive and robust interventions for the worst performing schools. The core objective of improving the quality of education and performance of the underprivileged student populations as a way of tackling systemic discrimination that condemns the poor and racial/ethnic minorities to socioeconomic and political deprivation must not be lost. While NCLB envisages a one-size-fits-all, this limited flexibility will allow states to develop customized solutions to the unique problems facing them, which should lead to better outcomes in the long term.
The state waivers are an important measure because it is already provided for in the current law, but it is also possible to change the legislation to provide for increased local control over the performance and progress benchmarks across the country. The A-PLUS Act proposes to amend the NCLB to permit states to assume responsibility for education-related policy-making. The state government and parliament shall under this amendment, be in charge of key education investment and performance measurement decisions, besides the requirement for the greater involvement of education stakeholders including teachers and parents. Effectively, while decentralization threatens the prospect for standardized education in the US, this amendment would result in customized education solutions and empowered education stakeholders, which should be beneficial in the long term.
Even with the best intentions, NCLB has struggled with multiple design problems as well as other difficulties that are not unexpected given the ambitious nature of the reforms. The policy is rigid, imposes arbitrary performance benchmarks that are heavily tilted towards one end-of-year score that determines if a school is failing or passing. The arbitrary performance measurement has driven schools and other education stakeholders into an obsessive concentration on math and language. Even more disappointingly, the tendency by states to set lower bars in order to escape federal government sanctions has revealed that NCLB’s both faces structural problems in imposing the same standards on all states. The consequence of focussing on the results as against quality improvement can only worsen an already broken and inequitable public education system in the US. Extending waivers to states should allow more time for compliance with the federal benchmarks, which should shift the focus back to quality improvement as against the false performance in yearly tests. Even most crucially, devolving the benchmark-setting will empower education stakeholders to pursue important priorities according to the challenges that are specific to their environments, which is important given the vast diversity of the US. However, decentralization of education policy-making must never be without federal supervision to avoid complacency.
Chrismer, Sara, Schwartz, Shannon, T. Hodge and Debby Saintil. "Introduction to Assessing NCLB." Harvard Educational Review 0017-8055 (2006). Web.
Lips, Dan. Reforming No Child Left Behind by Allowing States to Opt Out: AnA-PLUS for Federalism. Analysis. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2007. Web.
Symonds, William, C., Robert Schwartz and Ronald F. Ferguson. Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans. Cambridge, MA: Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, 2011. Web.
The White House. Reforming No Child Left Behind. 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/k-12/reforming-no-child-left-behind. 8 April 2015.
U.S. Department of Education. Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Summary, Section III. June 2007. Web. 6 April 2015.
Yip, G. and T. Hult. Total Global Strategy. New York: Pearson Education., 2012.