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Obama on No Child Left Behind

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Updated on Jul 26, 2010

It looks like No Child Left Behind, one of the most hotly debated education issues of the decade, is here to stay—though not without some major changes. While most would agree that the intent of NCLB was both positive and important, many educators, researchers, and policymakers believe there are major flaws with this legislation.

“… I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind,” President-elect Barack Obama said in a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire in 2007. “Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.”

So what does Obama propose we do to turn NCLB around? To start, he says it’s necessary to provide the funding that was promised and give states the resources they need. Additionally, Obama suggests two fundamental reforms to NCLB:

Improvements to Assessments

Obama’s administration believes funds should be provided for states to implement a broader range of assessments to evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, and present and defend their ideas. These assessments should provide immediate feedback so teachers can begin improving student learning right away.

Improvements to the Accountability System

Obama believes we need an accountability system that helps schools to improve, rather than one that focuses on punishments. He believes schools should assess all children appropriately, including English language learners and special needs students. The system would evaluate continuous progress for students and schools all along the learning continuum and would consider measures beyond reading and math tests; it would also create incentives to keep students in school through graduation, rather than pushing them out to make scores look better.

The suggested improvements will be welcomed by many parents and educators. “These reforms are needed,” says Cindy Reed, Ed.D, Director of the Truman Pierce Institute, a research and outreach unit in Auburn University’s College of Education. “One of the positive elements of NCLB is that it was a bipartisan effort looking at how we can improve public education.” Reed explains that due to underfunding there were unintended consequences and “a lot of the really good ideas that were included within the act were not operationalized in the way they should have been.”

Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit public policy research organization, isn’t so convinced. “We’re hearing a lot about how we need to pour more money into education and NCLB,” Chavez says. “I personally think money is not the cure.” Chavez stresses the importance of holding teachers accountable. “Without accountability, you end up with those teachers who stay year after year, teachers who are not open to being evaluated,” says Chavez.

Criticisms of NCLB
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