Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's next for NCLB?

Examining the effectiveness of the federal mandate

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) comes up for renewal next year. Educators voice growing concern over the federal law's impact and the rising number of schools facing sanctions.

More than 23,000 schools, a quarter of all public schools, failed to meet their NCLB test targets this year. Growing numbers will face the now-familiar NCLB sanctions of student transfers and supplemental tutoring. Many schools also face penalties of "restructuring." That means state or private takeover, or other major reorganization.

Critics of NCLB cite lack of funding to meet mandates, vagueness in the 1100-page legislation and questions as to whether the law has actually fostered improved student achievement. Stan Karp examines the issues for Rethinking Schools magazine.

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NCLB background

In 2002, President Bush signed into law the most sweeping educational reform law since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first enacted in 1965. Authors of the legislation say it is designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America’s schools.

NCLB passed with bipartisan support. The statute addresses four principles of education reform:

- stronger accountability for results
- increased flexibility and local control
- expanded options for parents
- emphasis on teaching methods that are proven to work

There are five nationwide goals for all children:

- proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year
- English proficiency for limited English proficient students
- qualified teachers in every classroom by 2005-2006
- safe and drug-free learning environments
- high school graduation for all students

Related: U.S. Department of Education, National Education Association

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Dennis Fermoyle said...

Sistrunk, we've already established that you and I have different perspectives on things like this. That being said, the very title of the program, No Child Left Behind, makes it hard for me to be open-minded about it. To me it says, "Why does a student do poorly? Because those uncaring schools are leaving them behind, of course." So what should we do? Identify those "failing schools" and punish them.

My hockey coaching career is illustrative of why so many teachers and schools get nervous about being judged by the test scores of their students. In 1980 I coached a team that didn't win a game. Judging by those results, I was certainly a failing coach. Mercifully for me, the people who were close to my situation didn't see it that way. They knew we had a very young team, and they knew our practice conditions were as bad as any team's in the state. We were just about the only team that had to practice outside instead of in an arena. There were no demands that I be fired, and an area newspaper even had an editorial praising my efforts.

In 2005 I was the co-head coach for a team that went 29-0-2 and won Minnesota's Class A state championship. Although I think we did a good job coaching that team, that was definitely not the major factor in our success. We had incredibly dedicated and talented players. We also had a beautiful arena and what might be the best practice situation in the state. The wonderful season that our team had didn't mean that I was a great coach anymore than my winless season meant that I was a failure.

You see the same type of situation in schools around the nation. Some operate in nearly ideal conditions, while others operate in nearly impossible ones. I think most teachers have no problem with being held accountable by people who are close to and understand their situations. But I know that I have no desire to be held accountable by someone who has no understanding of what I do and assumes it's my fault anytime my kids do poorly.

Deb Sistrunk said...

Dennis: What an eloquent and passionately written comment! I think you bring a very real perspective to this site.

I don’t think we are as far apart as you think. What I tried to do with this post was share two perspectives on NCLB. The Bush administration and the framers of the legislation look at the law in one way; many educators have a different perspective because they are the ones who have to implement the mandate.

I’m sure well-intentioned people were behind the legislation. However, many of the people who wrote the law were not educators. Many were politicians. I don’t think educators were given a strong voice in the writing of the statute.

Trust me when I say I understand your frustration because I’ve probably had to study the principles of the statute and keep up with the changes more than the average person.

Shortly after the law was enacted, I had to train superintendents and school board members NCLB. Later, I was called on to train parents on their rights and responsibilities under the law.

I am not at all surprised by the mixed results that we’re seeing in schools. The law is underfunded. States get to set their own standards. Ideally, this would be good. But what we are finding is that some states set their standards so low, they don’t have much of a problem in meeting NCLB goals. Students graduating in these states are not much better off than they were before the federal law was enacted. They are still graduating with a minimum level of reading and math skills.

As much as I would love to see ALL children proficient in reading and math by 2014, we all know it’s not going to happen. Even under the most ideal learning environments, we are not going to have all severely disabled children proficient in reading and math by 2014. Since the law was enacted, we have seen a little backpedaling by the U.S. Department of Education in this area. There was also some backpedaling and adjustments made to AYP - adequately yearly progress.

(The Minnesota Department of Education does a good job of providing an overview of NCLB, including AYP. Readers who want to know more about adequately yearly progress may check out website of their school district or their state department of education. The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a site on NCLB.

As I’m sure you know, Dennis, AYP embraces the school accountability component of NCLB. I don’t think anyone would quibble about the importance of school districts being accountable for all schools and students, the importance of having highly qualified teachers, and the importance of strengthening partnerships with parents. I’m also sure educators understand the need for allocating additional resources to areas and students demonstrating the greatest need.

The parting of the ways comes, I think, when it comes to devising strategies, such as school improvement plans, to accomplish NCLB goals. This is where the frustration sets in.

There are at least three areas where I think NCLB has called attention to some very valid issues: closing the achievement gap, improving parent involvement and engagement, and making sure that teachers in the classroom are certified in the subject areas they are teaching. There is also more of a focus on educational and social equity within school districts.

Granted, NCLB has missed the mark in several areas. The law that we know as No Child Left Behind may fall by the wayside when the Bush administration steps down. But I think the accountability issue will remain, as it should, no matter what we call the law.

By the way, I bet you do a great job of taking values that make for great sportsmanship and leadership and integrating them into the classroom!

Dennis Fermoyle said...

DCS, the comment I made was a gut-common sense reaction from a teacher. I would love to have an intelligent dialogue with you about NCLB, but that would be difficult because it is obvious that your knowledge of the ins and outs of it dwarfs mine. After reading your response, I have to admit that I'm not even in your league. (How's that for sportsmanship?) If you could look at me now, you would be seeing a man waving a white flag. As Clint Eastwood once said, "A man's got to know his limitations."

DCS said...

Dennis: Anyone who quotes Clint Eastwood is a friend of mine! ;-)

You're waving a white flag??? I thought we were just getting started on a very interesting exchange. LOL

You out of your league?? I don't think so. I can't touch you when it comes to your long, dedicated teaching career.

Hopefully, readers of this space have checked out your site, From the Trenches of Public Ed. Your book, In the Trenches: A Teacher's Defense of Public Education, offers an intriguing perspective on public school education.

Your passion comes through loud and clear. To me, that's what makes you a good writer. You should see me, sitting transfixed at my screen, as I read your writings. :-)

If I ever need defending, I'd want you on my "dream team"!

Dennis Fermoyle said...

DCS, you have just become one of my all-time favorite people!

DCS said...

Dennis: Back at ya. :-)