Is NCLB a Red Herring?

For years now, we have heard how No Child Left Behind was at the root of everything that was wrong with our schools.  We’re spending too much time on high-stakes testing.  We’re spending too much money on NCLB requirements.  We’re asking too much of our teachers.  We’re expecting too much from our students.  If only NCLB were tucked back into the drawer, then our schools would improve, all students would be on their way to Nobel Prizes, and achievement gaps would be a thing of the past.  Oh, if only we could go back to the good ole days.

Today’s Washington Times reports on the NCLB study released by the Center for Education Policy.  It is an interesting read.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080520/NATION/766555380/1002  Under the header, “Many states leave behind education law,” Amy Fagan reports that more than 20 states have “procrastinated” in meeting NCLB requirements, meaning they likely will not hit the 2014 targets laid out in the law.

Imagine that.  Nearly half of states are not implementing NCLB with the zealousness called for in the law.  According to CEP, states like California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and others aren’t in a position to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math in six years.  Even Washington, DC, which has to answer to the feds, falls into the laggard bucket.

Interestingly, many of the states that join DC on the laggard list are the states that have been most vocal about the high costs and powerful problems caused by NCLB.  We’ve heard the cries from Oregon, for example.  They’re on the list.  We’ve heard from states like Wisconsin that NCLB’s Reading First doesn’t work.  Yes, America’s Dairyland is on the list as well.  Even states who are about to lose their chief state school officers — like Rhode Island and Indiana — are also on the hit list.

It makes Eduflack wonder, is NCLB really to blame?  Are these states having such difficulty implementing the law with fidelity that they have fallen so far behind?  Or have they been slowly addressing the law, hoping a reauthorization or a new president would again change the game?  Are they diligent in doing it right, or are they simply waiting it out?

Like many, I still believe our national goal should be every child proficient in math and reading.  That’s a baseline that should be required in every school, every state across the nation.  How can it not be?  Do we identify now which third-graders don’t have to be proficient?  Do we brand those fourth graders who we figure will drop out, and won’t factor into our high school data?  Of course not.

As long as half the states are failing to keep up with NCLB implementation, we can’t say the law is failing.  NCLB doesn’t work if the states can’t implement it, or if we find the states can’t make it work. The majority of states have been able to implement the law, and will meet the 2014 requirements.  So the first box is checked. 

The second box is the unanswered question.  We are seeing states that are making NCLB work.  We are seeing others with the potential.  We are seeing math scores on the rise.  We have identified what works and what hasn’t with Reading First.

It seems, to this uneducated soul, that 2014 is our moment of truth.  Then, we’ll see how successful the states have been in gaining math and reading proficiency for all.  Until then, we need to stop the blame game and focus on implementing the law with full fidelity.  Maybe, just maybe, NCLB has a few solutions to what ails us educationally.

4 thoughts on “Is NCLB a Red Herring?

  1. Oh. Gosh. Please. NCLB is not a silver bullet. It’s a calculated system, a grading scale, a report card. That report card does one thing: It reflects the state of schools. NCLB doesn’t hold the hand of a school district and help it change. A system of tests does not sprinkle fairy dust over the kids and make them smarter. It offers observations but without real data-driven decision-making, it doesn’t create solutions. NCLB simply tracks the progress of kids.When ed.gov comes up with the solutions for our urban students… or, more precisely, the solutions that address every student… then we’ll have something. Until then, it’s nice to be on the outside looking in.

  2. I agree that NCLB isn’t a silver bullet.  Don’t think it was ever intended to be.  But it does serve as a blueprint to start getting schools on the right track.  For decades, we left schools to their own devices to sort things out, diagnose the problems, and implement the solutions.  And we see how that has worked out.If, at the end of the day, NCLB improves our ability to collect, analyze, and use data, then it has done its job.  Yes, we have a long way to go on real data-driven decision-making.  But we are closer now than we were before NCLB.  We get further by pushing harder, not by weakening and watering down a law that isn’t perfect.

  3. I was thinking about this as I drove to go get a salad for lunch. Maybe I would have respected ed.gov more if they had pushed/trained states for good data analysis. It’s like we use the disaggregation to treat black and brown like a disease (without a cure). Was listening to a Joanne Quinn seminar in the car on the way to a hearing on Friday. And I thought, “Oh. THAT’S how it’s done.” I just wish more people knew what THAT was. (Although I have to give props out to our larger urban districts, who are moving in this direction.)Only with good analysis does this rating stuff mean anything. And it’s going to take such a long time for people to get there. In Texas, where we’ve been doing this for 10 years, it’s only now we see the glimmer of how data can be used.

  4. Wishing away government oversight of failing public institutions is not acceptable. We should demand more of NCLB, not less. In education, even macro policy questions should look first at the micro effects on children. NCLB is currently set up, with annual testing, but without an overarching method to create better student outcomes. So the states feel put upon, the schools devote the year to teaching to the test and children are robbed of their future.This is not a problem of policy but a problem of implementation. NCLB’s annual testing suggests the need for data driven instruction but the law does not specifically mandate this. Data driven instruction is an excellent technique for teachers to identify the performance of all students on a standard-by-standard basis and alter instruction accordingly. The challenge is implementing the correct intervention to meet individual student needs. Teachers need to run classrooms in which this kind of learning can occur and be trained to implement specialized interventions. In order to make this happen schools need the resources to staff and train their teachers, knowledge of how to implement effective data driven instruction and the best ways to respond to what the data tells us. If a school cannot do these things then the school will fail and NCLB will force it to change.

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