Advocates for Educational Justice Disagree About How to Change NCLB
African American and Latino 17-year-olds read and do math at the same levels as 13-year-old white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The goal of the federal No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2001, is to close this “achievement gap” by 2014.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) says
- Every school must raise every student to grade level (“proficiency”) in math and reading by 2014.
- Every school must show that it is making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward that goal for every “subgroup”—including the five largest ethnic groups, English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.
- High-poverty schools that receive “Title One” money from the federal government, if they don’t make AYP for two years, must pay for tutoring—or transportation if students want to transfer to another school.
- The same schools, if they fail to meet AYP for six years, must “restructure” with a new staff or some other drastic change.
The law is ambitious. Has it been working? Should it be renewed when it expires this year? Is 100% proficiency by 2014 the right goal?
Agreement on need
Advocates for educational justice agree that:
- The law has shone a much-needed spotlight on the racial and economic “achievement gap.”
- Most schools are far from closing this gap. Schools with large numbers of low-income students and students of color are now being shortchanged and need major new resources to equalize education.
- Children learning English should learn the same material as others—but most states are not doing a good job of testing English learners.
Keep it or change it?
Many organizations dedicated to educational equity are now taking opposite sides on how NCLB should be changed when Congress renews it this year or next.
The Achievement Alliance (AA), including the Education Trust, National Council of La Raza, the Business Roundtable, and others, says the law is moving schools in the right direction.
The Forum for Educational Accountability (FEA), including the Children’s Defense Fund, the NAACP, the PTA, FairTest, and many more, says the law should change course.
Effects on schools in disadvantaged communities
AA: “The biggest thing that NCLB did is focus the nation on whether each subgroup is achieving,” says Russlyn Ali, director of Education Trust-West. “It’s no longer OK that black and brown children fly below the accountability radar.” The law has given low-income schools more money—and a yardstick to compare their achievement to others.
FEA: “In every state, the greatest number of schools failing to make AYP are low-income, minority schools,” says Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. And only high-poverty (Title One) schools receive penalties.
AA: Standardized testing is useful because it exposes the achievement gap. “For decades, white and wealthy kids have been mastering those assessments at higher levels,” says Ali. “Our kids are judged, whether it be the driver’s ed test, the bar (exam), the SAT test, a test (for) an apprenticeship program. We have to empower our kids to do better on those assessments.”
Testing does not necessarily drive art, physical education and other subjects out of schools, Ali adds. “In high-performing high-poverty schools, you don’t see ‘drill and kill,’” she says.
FEA: Standardized tests are unfair because they do not accurately reflect what students can do. “If you want to see if a kid can write, look at their writing rather than giving them a standardized test on composition and grammar,” says Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest.
Schaeffer points out that under NCLB, many schools have eliminated important subjects like art and physical education. “What is tested is taught,” he says. “Classes have become little more than test-prep factories.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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