Is No Child Left Behind the Best Option?

If I may speak candidly for a moment, I have to admit that one of the things I am most nervous about when I begin teaching is the first time I encounter a student with a disability in my classroom. This is not because I am scared or I don’t want to deal with something that will require me to push myself as a teacher, but I am nervous that I won’t be able to provide everything the child will need to succeed. I want to, but I am afraid that I won’t be able to. I feel like (or at least I hope) this is sentiment is normal among beginning teachers who are not specializing in special education.

When I am faced with a student with a disability in my classroom, I will not be afraid to seek outside assistance. My mother taught special education in the public school system for years before she opened a private school for children with autism in 2000, so I will probably call on her for assistance first. I will also, of course, talk to teachers who have previously taught the student and to counselors and specialists in the school. In addition, I think it will be important to maintain an open dialogue with the student’s parents so they will be able to help at home, and will feel comfortable keeping me up to date on medical, family, or social issues that may also be impacting the student’s education. Although it will be up to me to work with the student when he or she is in my classroom, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for help and finding out how others have performed in similar situations to know what works and what doesn’t.

In all of my anxiety about the first time I teach a disabled student, it never even occurred to me that they would be taking standardized tests and, to the state, their scores would be a reflection of my teaching. This is in part because I come from a faraway land with endless summers and dancing unicorns where no one had to take SOLs and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt (I went to private school for my entire life, and I don’t even know what an SOL looks like, so if we’re ever talking about SOLs and I seem to know what I’m talking about, I don’t; I’m probably just lying to your face because I don’t like seeming like I don’t know things that everyone else knows. Oops). Anyway, the teachers in this week’s video case seemed to make points that I agree with, despite having only the most basic knowledge of standardized tests. They discussed that state mandated testing is difficult for all students because the people judging the test don’t know the students involved, and the tests don’t take into account bad days or trouble at home that could impact scores. These tests also don’t cater to students who learn in non-traditional ways. It is especially difficult for students with disabilities because standardized tests don’t acknowledge the progress these students have made in the classroom if their work all year hasn’t gotten them ready to meet the demands of whatever state mandated test they’re taking.

I believe that legislature such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) always begins with the best intentions, but, as John Kline wrote in a CNN editorial on the subject, “Hindsight is 20/20, and after a decade of No Child Left Behind, we can clearly identify the law’s weaknesses.” In another article I read, “The Future of No Child Left Behind,” Diane Ravitch, one of the people in the interview, criticized the law for being ultimately ineffective. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which measures reading and math proficiency every two years, little to no improvement has been shown in those areas since the law was enacted. John Chubb, the other individual interviewed, said that NCLB “was built on sound principles” and has, in fact, met its most basic requirement, which was to improve the educations of those most in need. He noted that since the law came to be, minority and disadvantaged students have made significant progress in reading and math, closing the achievement gap a little bit more.

It’s strange because these people are looking at the same figures and coming up with completely different assessments. On one hand, it is likely that those who have needed to improve the most have since NCLB began, but, on the other, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to help the most students. Both sides are right, despite being on opposing ends of the argument. It seems that NCLB has been effective, but not as effective as it could be, so now, rather than continuing to match every point with a counterpoint and still coming up empty handed, it’s time to look to the future and figure out how we can improve NCLB.

Since entering office, President Obama has offered states relief from NCLB and granted them waivers so these states can avoid the monetary penalties that are associated with not raising their standards every three years. This was a good step because it acknowledged NCLB’s shortcomings and offered to work with states, rather than against them. I hope that in the coming years states will be given more control over their curricula and standards because, as Kline said,

“It’s time to put control back in the hands of those who interact daily with our children.”

In February of this year, Kline began working on a bill that challenges NCLB to give states a stronger voice in education. He believes that states should be able to use their funding to support their unique needs, rather than what the federal government mandates, and he wants to improve teacher quality by introducing performance pay and getting rid of “burdensome regulations” that prevent teachers from doing their jobs. Although Kline’s bill from the Education & the Workforce committee is only one example, it is thinking like this, that puts what’s best for students and teachers above anything else that will help improve America’s current education system.

Sources:

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://edworkforce.house.gov/

Kline, J. (2012, January 06). Cnn. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/06/opinion/kline-no-child-left-behind/index.html

Ralabate, P., & Foley, B. (May). Nea and idea: intersection of access and outcomes. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/18617.htm�

Ravitch, D., & Chubb, J. (2009). Educationnext. Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/the-future-of-no-child-left-behind/

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