No Child Left Behind: Who's Accountable?
To many federal legislators, No Child Left Behind is like the cavalry sent to rescue the American educational system. To many teachers, the federal mandate is simply another shackle, more paperwork and red tape, as they try to stimulate and expand the minds of the young. But to many involved in educational research, No Child Left Behind is akin to the leg of an elephant. The information they are gathering about that leg is helpful and important, but it is also becoming increasingly clear that the animal resting on the appendage is far more gargantuan and complex than originally imagined. Still, many look forward to embarking on a quest, albeit imperfect and unpredictable, to unravel the mysteries of the beast.
Certainly, experts and non-experts across the nation do not dispute that the American system of education is not where it needs to be. Right now, for example, the United States is tied with Zimbabwe for achievement in 8th grade mathematics. Today, over 80 percent of African American and Latino 8th graders say they plan to attend a two- or four-year college. Yet, once there, many are not prepared for a rigorous post-secondary education. Between 40 and 60 percent of college students need remedial work to catch up, and between 25 and 50 percent of these students drop out after their first year. These data imply that although the existing K–12 system is graduating students, it is not necessarily preparing them for life beyond high school.
The Bush Administration’s answer to this conundrum has been to rigidly implement the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Enacted during the president’s first term, NCLB is up for reauthorization in 2007, NCLB requires that 100 percent of American public school students reach set proficiency standards in reading and math (and as of 2008, in science, as well) by the year 2014. Individual states set their own standards and all students, regardless of family income, race, ethnicity, or disability must comply. Schools whose students fail to achieve these goals face increasingly onerous penalties and sanctions.
Reprinted with the permission of Peabody College. © 2006, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University.
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