Leave NCLB education act behind

Published 5:39 am Monday, July 16, 2007

By By Tray Smith
With immigration reform thankfully dead, Congress is preparing to begin debate on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Hopefully, as they prepare to extend this law, they will realize the moderate gains we have seen in test scores since the law was passed in 2001 are unacceptable and implement a plan that will go even further than NCLB in reforming America's systems of public education.
The crux of the problem with No Child Left Behind is that, while its standardized test scores and adequate yearly progress mandates allow us to see which of our schools are "falling behind," they do not provide us with a route by which we can make our schools better. Granted, the reconstruction programs that failing schools are forced to go through require them to make some changes in staff and administration, but those reforms alone are not enough to overhaul America's public education system into one that is truly capable of preparing students to enter the workforce and college. And because good schools are labeled failing or "in need of improvement" if they fail to meet only one of their Adequate Yearly Progress goals; the number of schools in need of special assistance is so large that the government cannot provide special assistance to any of them.
Furthermore, even the testing part of NCLB does a poor job of informing us how bad our schools are performing because since each state can create its own test, some states dumb down their testing standards in order to artificially inflate their scores.
NCLB has provided us with a foundation for reforming our educational system, but by no means should it be considered the final reform needed in order to institute a change. Rather, we should carefully scrutinize its successes and its failures in order to shape a new law that mandates even greater change and gives us an educational infrastructure with which to achieve it.
Under NCLB, there is a very large amount of bureaucracy involved, as people are now hired to create tests, print tests, score tests and "analyze" test results. This has the added affect of inserting the power federal government into our classrooms. This year, the Alabama State Board of Education is preparing to issue new curriculum guidelines that further limit the freedom our instructors have in designing lesson plans and teaching courses. In order to solve this problem, the process of making tests and grading schools should be outsourced to a nonprofit agency, such as the college board. This organization would create national tests for all schools, instead of allowing states to adopt their own low standards. It would optimally score schools on a formula that gives them a percentage grade so that parents can understand the process and schools can be more fairly judged, in contrast to the current AYP system. This organization could also handle the school accreditation process so that schools do not have to be governed by multiple organizations.
But if we want to improve our test scores, we must not simply mandate more tests in our reform law. We need to have changes in our system that allow those scores to increase. Our agriculture based school calendar is outdated. The lack of an information technology program that allows students, parents, teachers and schools to communicate with one another and offer courses online is a problem that only recently politicians began to address. The amount of money we pay our teachers prevents us from being able to attract some of the best and brightest professionals into the classroom. Meanwhile, our system of tenure protects the least best and bright from losing their job. Each and every one of these problems must be addressed if we are to create the school system envisioned by NCLB at its inception. Standardized tests are not a way to make progress, they only allow us to measure the progress we are making. It is not enough to mandate a test and expect scores to likewise improve. We must reform our entire system in order to expect our students and teachers to perform better. Hopefully, Congress will realize that as it enacts new legislation. Hopefully, that legislation will leave NCLB behind.
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 tsmith_90@hotmail.com.

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