NCLB leaves curriculum behind

Published 9:19 pm Monday, March 19, 2007

By By Tray Smith
President Bush's signature education reform effort, No Child Left Behind, will expire this year. Yet lawmakers debating its renewal continue to focus on accountability, performance and funding while ignoring issues such as curriculum and workforce development. No matter how rigorous the standards Congress sets may be, if those standards are not based around the skills our children need to compete in the 21st Century workforce, our students will not be able to compete in an ever more challenging global marketplace.
The ideas behind No Child Left Behind are good. We spend billions of dollars educating our students, and we, the taxpayers, have a right to expect positive results in return. But the multitude of different tests currently administered by each state leaves us with no clear indicator of national trends and no clear national standards. The testing regime created by No Child Left Behind is inflexible, unable to capture the needs of different students with different interests. Administrating the test is often burdensome on school and state officials, and the time our students spend testing takes away from time they could spend learning in class. Too often, schools are held accountable for their test results without consideration of the challenges they face form socioeconomic factors and racial composition. Information on school performance as distributed to administrators, teachers and parents is often confusing. Forcing students to pass exams before moving to a higher grade or before graduating means that fewer students will advance grade levels on time and fewer students will graduate. While federal spending on education has skyrocketed since No Child Left Behind was passed, the law does nothing to address the funds we waste on students who will eventually drop out and the money spent on courses irrelevant to the careers students will eventually pursue.
As Congress debates the state of affairs in our education system, policy makers would be well advised to preserve the accountability sought by No Child Left Behind while basing standards on the skills that our students will need in life. The way our students are tested should be reformed, and the number of high school dropouts needs to be addressed. Finally, high schools and junior colleges should be completely overhauled to reflect new economic realities.
Congress should create a new nonprofit organization made up of corporate citizens, member schools, parents and the federal government. This organization should be responsible for developing a series of three national tests that every student will be required to pass before completing the fourth, eighth and 12th grade. These exams should ensure student proficiency in reading, writing, English, science, math and social sciences. The first exam should include an assessment on learning ability and the second exam should include an assessment on student interest. Students 16 years of age who have passed all of their exams should receive a certificate and they should be free to enter the workforce if they so choose. If they choose instead to complete high school, students should be required to select an interest and take classes in that subject throughout their high school career. The final exam should include a portion that tests student knowledge in the area they specialized in. In effect, this will allow students to "major" in a specific area during their high school years so that they will be prepared to enter the workforce immediately after high school, or achieve college credits for classes that they take before they graduate from high school. This multi-level testing system will allow problems to be caught before they are allowed to fester, and students who cannot read will receive assistance before they get to high school.
In order to avoid any type of mishandling on these tests by schools and to end further intrusions on class time, the exams should be administered like the ACT, so that students are forced to take the test on their time, at their pace on a campus that is not affiliated with their school. Federal education dollars should then be distributed to each school at a flat rate for each student who passes their national test on time, with bonuses for students from low rings on the socioeconomic later. Exceptions should be made for students with special needs. Schools will then receive annual report cards based on their test scores, parent and student surveys, peer surveys from accreditation teams, attendance rates and the percentage of students passing their test on time.
Under this system, we will no longer spend money on environmental science courses for high school juniors who want to go into construction. We will instead ensure that each student has core knowledge of the core subjects, and then we will allow them to build on that knowledge in courses relevant to their career interest. Achieving these goals will require an expansion of family life, personal finance and career tech courses.
A national center should be established to monitor school reforms at the state and local levels that lead to good results and duplicate those practices throughout the country. A "MySpace" for schools should be formed and maintained so that students, teachers and parents can communicate seamlessly online, where student attendance, academic and discipline records can be posted. Laptops should replace textbooks. The school calendar should be adjusted so that students spend more time in school and do not have to spend one-fourth of every year reviewing what they forgot over the summer. Any school receiving federal funding should be required to accept any student who wants to attend that school. After school programs should be expanded, and high schools should offer night classes so that students who work or who want to expand their knowledge in particular subjects have the freedom to attend classes after three o'clock. Curriculums should be expanded to include more information about different cultures, technology and communication. Charter schools should become more commonplace. Teachers should receive six-digit professional level pay in return for giving up tenure and their overly generous health and retirement plans.
Nothing is as important to our long-term ability to compete than the quality of our students education. We should hold our teachers, schools, students and parents accountable for academic performance, and we should ensure that our students receive the information they need to achieve success.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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