Advocates for Educational Justice Disagree About How to Change NCLB (page 4)
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.”
Fairness to kids with disabilities
AA: Special education has become a dumping ground for many children who probably don’t have disabilities, says Ali. “There has been an influx of especially black boys in special ed. It defies science. We have to hold schools accountable for their learning.” NCLB allows districts to modify tests to accommodate disabilities for up to 3% of students. New federal rules will double that number.
FEA: Districts should also use other methods to assess children with disabilities, says Lynda Van Kuren, communications director for Council for Exceptional Children. “We have to look at our students individually,” Korten says. “Some of our students are making wonderful strides but that is not necessarily showing up on standardized tests.”
100% proficiency by 2014
AA: This goal is fair and achievable, as the progress of many high-poverty schools shows. “When I talk to parents, and I ask them if 12 years (from 2002, when the law was enacted, to 2014) is enough” time for a school to raise every student to grade level, “they say, ‘that’s the duration of my child’s K-12 experience,’” says Ali. “That’s too slow.”
FEA: Schools should be accountable for doing what it takes to get better, not meeting arbitrary testing targets. Rather than preparing for standardized tests, schools should focus on training their teachers and helping parents become better educational advocates for their children.
FEA cites experts like Robert Linn, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, who told the Washington Post, “There is a zero percent chance that we will ever reach a 100 percent target.”
English learners: changes advocated
“I wouldn’t want to set a bar lower for our students just because they don’t know the language,” says Melissa Lazarín, senior education policy analyst with National Council for La Raza.
But some members of both AA and FEA want to change the way English learners are tested. NCLB allows states to make special accommodations for English learners for three to five years. But California and many other states test students only in English after one year.
“Right now a lot of the assessments are a test of the student’s knowledge of English and not a test of the (material)” in the curriculum, says Lazarín. “We’re advocating for states and the federal government to develop appropriate assessments. That may be English. That may be native language. That will depend on the student.”
- Achievement Alliance, 202-293-1217, ext. 402, www.achievementalliance.org
- Forum on Educational Accountability, 617-864-4810, www.edaccountability.org/
Extra resources from the Children’s Advocate bulletin
- The Center on Education Policy offers many NCLB
resources online at http://www.cep-dc.org, including Beyond the
Mountains: An early look at restructuring in California at
- The California Department of Education offers information on NCLB online at http://www.cde.ca.gov/nclb/index.asp
- The US Department of Education offers information in
Spanish on NCLB, online at http://www.ed.gov/espanol/parents/
- Education Trust (http://www2.edtrust.org) offers many reports on
NCLB including Measured Progress, which says achievement has
risen and the achievement gap narrowed, based on state test scores.
Online at http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/
- Harvard Civil Rights Project offers a report,
Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the
Gaps, which says no real progress has been made on student
achievement, based on national test scores. Online at http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/
- No Child Left Behind Receives Failing Grade from
Teachers, a study from UC Riverside, finds that 80% of
Southern California teachers surveyed view NCLB negatively. Summary
online at http://www.newsroom.ucr.edu/
- Excellence in the Classroom, from the Future of
Children, discusses the improving teacher quality to close the
achievement gap. Online at http://www.futureofchildren.org/
- Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary
Classrooms, from Science, finds that teachers spend far more
time on basic reading and math skills than on problem-solving, science,
and social studies. Online at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/data/
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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