NCLB Potential Amendments Can Destabilize Public Education

The New York Times’ Editorial Board published an opinion on Congress’ coming review of bills that aim to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also know as the No Child Left Behind Act. The article notes a couple of items of interest to me.

First, it acknowledges that NCLB has it’s drawbacks, however, the Act should not be amended altogether, but rather adjusted for its shortcomings. Particularly, the Act, as it is now, arguably mislabels schools, which causes stress on teachers, administration, parents and students:

“This provision failed to adequately distinguish between chronically failing schools and otherwise good schools that missed improvement targets for particular subgroups, like special needs children. As a result, as many as half the schools in some states were listed as needing improvement, seen by the public as “failing,” which mystified educators and parents, and generated a predictable political backlash.”

This part of the Act instills unnecessary insecurity in schools, students, parents and teachers that are more than the labels suggest. It makes students and teachers doubt what they’ve accomplished and undermined actual achievements. I understand why general labels are used to indicate a school’s academic performances. But rather than broadly labeling schools, a system where broad labels and short and specific labels are combined could be a sufficient remedy. Or, perhaps, a two score system where there is a overall grade and a grade that highlights the strongest need of improvement section. I do acknowledge how this can cause confusion, but I also think that it is absolutely necessary to try and provide more context to the present labeling system because education is so complex.

Furthermore, NCLB requires testing children once a year in grades 3-12. The testing has created a frenzy of constant preparation and rote education. Clearly, this environment takes away the creativity of education and allows people to see testing as a value of education, rather than a component.

One bill’s remedy to this, according to the Editorial Board, is to relinquish the state of its mandatory obligation to involve itself it into failing (or otherwise) schools. This takes a way the mandatory yearly testing on both a national and state level. This proposed bill would allow districts and cities the opportunity o make up their own grading and evaluation systems without consideration for what other schools, districts and cities are doing.

The board notes, and I agree, that this free flow of teaching with such a large public school systems, such as New York City, allows for less understanding of how peers across the board are performing and provides parents with an uncentralized basis on how their children are performing.

What I think the Board should have emphasized is the chaos individual district/city grading and evaluations would create. School districts would attempt to create their own systems, one that seemingly fits the district’s needs. I acknowledge the value in this. The current system is too broad and isn’t the best fits for a lot of schools. But I also recognize that practice can be very different from theory and when the two oppose each other, correcting it may be difficult to achieve, primarily because the type of system has either never been done before, doesn’t have an immediate or transparent fix or has nothing to compare it against.

Leaving the state out and removing centralized education also destabilizes the education system and introduces us to a world where educational factors are forever changing and uniformity becomes less of a factor. Comparing apples to oranges, pears to grapes, carrots to brussel spouts will make understanding quality education across the board, even on regional or demographically similar level, much more difficult.

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