No Child Left Behind: Says Who?
What impact does the policy created by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have on the achievement of students? What changes might be necessary to make it work? These questions have intrigued and troubled me since the inception of the act and the implementations of its sanctions. With its passage, sweeping changes in the way schools are run need to be addressed. It is no longer business as usual given the stringent sanctions that are applied to states, districts, schools, teachers, and students when they don’t meet the federal accountability guidelines of the NCLB.
No reasonable person would argue against accountability that would guide communities to better prepare its youth to understand their role in the future of society. However, the NCLB does not permit accountability to be a shared responsibility of the school community but places it squarely on the shoulders of administrators, teachers and students. I am suggesting that although the NCLB requirements show an underinvestment in capacity building and an over reliance on standardized test scores for accountability purposes, individual school communities can become proactive in compliance by changing the way they participate in the educational process. Although the NCLB does make reference to the wider community when it discusses accountability, it defines their responsibility as simply “tracking the performance of every school in the nation…to ensure that no child—regardless of his or her background—is left behind.” I suggest that the parameters surrounding the responsibility of the larger community needs to change, to take on a more responsive rather than judgmental role in the attainment or adaptation of the NCLB goals by exercising their rights to communicate with policy makers. Furman and Shields argue, “the concepts of social justice and democratic community are integrally interconnected and must not be considered apart from the concepts of student learning.”
If the purpose of the NCLB is to promote student learning in this country then I would suggest that those most closely affected by its policies should ask such questions as “Where is the social justice and equity in retaining 8 year olds or preventing students from graduating high school who have already been accepted to colleges or universities? How will our society profit by expecting children with diverse learning styles and handicapping conditions to attain the same score on a single standardized test or be retained? I would also ask where is the social justice in offering parents, on the guise of choice, to take money from the public school to pay for their child’s entry into a charter or private school where there is no accountability for the quality and credentialing of teachers that is so much a part of the NCLB for public schools?
It is reasonable to expect the true test of an educational accountability policy be in its capacity to measure educational success in terms of how it provides individual and societal growth. It is questionable that NCLB has adequately met this test. Any educational accountability policy that is not able to demonstrate how the diverse skills and interests of our youth forwards the ideals of our democratic society rather than “marking” them based on a simplistic singular test score that disproportionately damages the poor and creative amongst them, either to be redesigned, or if not, abolished. Children aren’t widgets that fit into a singular mold; each is unique with identifiable strengths that go unidentified and tossed a result of the NCLB accountability system. In the final analysis, the NCLB fails miserably at its test of purpose.#
Dr. Lynn K. Robbins has her doctorate from Florida Atlantic University in educational leadership and a Master’s degree from Brooklyn College in sports psychology and one from City College of New York in Educational Administration. She is a member and past Vice President of Phi Delta Kappa at Columbia University in New York and has been an educator and an educational administrator for over 25 years.#