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Ahlin: No Child Left Behind left a lot of children behind

FARGO'No Child Left Behind" was supposed to be the watershed act that put U.S. education on a path to exceptional outcomes for all children. Regardless of economic status, disability, race or length of time in the country as new Americans, studen...

FARGO
‘No Child Left Behind” was supposed to be the watershed act that put U.S. education on a path to exceptional outcomes for all children. Regardless of economic status, disability, race or length of time in the country as new Americans, students would succeed. Goals were so lofty, the expectation was that under NCLB every single child in the whole U.S. would be doing well in school by year 2014.
Reality was not part of the NCLB formula.
Thirteen years later, those of us who opposed the program from day one turned out to be more right than wrong. However, a few good things emerged. The most important may have been the constant reminder that averaging all students does not address the needs of specific populations. By insisting that each socioeconomic and ethnic group be measured in relation to majority populations, imbalances in most schools were kept front and center for attention. That is good. No matter the hindrances and limitations for students, all deserve a good education. Gaps in achievement - never narrowed - cannot be acceptable.
However, the primary components of NCLB (increased testing, school accountability, and choice) were punitive and did not result in student success. For instance, in 2014, only 77 of 455 North Dakota schools met progress requirements.
An article by Valerie Strauss with data put together by Monty Neill, executive director of “FairTest,” for the Washington Post last March showed national trends since NCLB was passed in 2001:
The rate of progress on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) at grades four and eight was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than since.
Score gaps in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990
The slowdown in math was pronounced, especially at grade four.
Scores for high school students stagnated.
SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians.
ACT scores stayed flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.
In other words, when parents complained about narrowing the curriculum and “teaching to the test,” their concerns were valid. Test-driven accountability makes for bad student outcomes. Not only are students less connected and involved, but also teachers are denied flexibility to use imagination and inspiration in presenting curriculum, the very qualities that make them professionals. Then, too, the notion that parents easily can move children to higher-performing schools was unrealistic, particularly in rural or poverty-stricken areas. And charter schools proved not to be the answer. The Obama administration added incentives (Race to the Top) and waivers to help schools, but change has not been evident. It’s too early for a verdict on Common Core State Standards.
That said, the nation is on to the “Every Student Achieves Act.” On one hand, we can be grateful Congress finally acted (NCLB was to expire in 2007). States will have more control of teacher evaluation and school accountability. However, we should question why it took Congress eight years to replace a failed program.
Most of all, we should worry that the real culprit in stunting student learning - children living in poverty or near-poverty - is left under the radar. A study by the Southern Education Foundation showed that for the first time in over half a century, more than 50 percent of U.S. schoolchildren live at or near the poverty line. It’s hard to have good student outcomes without the day-to-day input of health and well-being.
Ahlin is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email her at janeahlin@yahoo.com

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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