Especially considering it was passed by a president whose party now touts the value of private education over public schools, No Child Left Behind was an important law. It’s goal was a valuable one — distributing federal funds to the low-income schools that need the most help. As more than a decade of public education under No Child Left Behind has shown, however, many of its policies simply aren’t working in the way they were intended.
No Child Left Behind’s biggest flaw has always been the requirement that schools meet “adequate yearly progress.” It introduced standardized tests into the public education system, requiring schools to demonstrate that all students were making academic progress. Schools that fail to meet adequate yearly progress for two years in a row are subject to intervention by the State Education Agency of their particular state.
It’s a good idea in theory, but it’s based on the incorrect assumption that all students have an equal approach to learning and test taking. It also assumes that a school’s restructuring could lead to more positive results. The law has the noble goal of closing our nation’s achievement gap, but it’s pursuing that goal through the wrong means. It fails to address that every student in our nation’s education system is a unique individual with a different perception of what “achievement” really means. Standardized test scores resulting in rewards or punishments are not the answer.
Members of Congress are well aware of these issues, and they’re currently undergoing the process of rewriting the law. According to the Washington Post, Republican committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray recently issued the following joint statement: “During the last several weeks we have been working together to build the base for legislation to fix the problems with No Child Left Behind. We are making significant progress in our negotiations. We are aiming to consider and mark up legislation to fix the law during the week of April 13th.”
This statement seems encouraging. A bipartisan group of Senators is working toward the reforms that the public education system desperately needs. The rewrite could eliminate some of the punishments associated with low test scores, lowering the current high-stakes nature of those assessments. It could continue the allocation of funds to schools with large populations of poor students, without putting those schools under the threat of restructuring or other punishments.
As the Washington Post notes, creating an education system is an incredibly complex undertaking. Finding a solution to the problems created by No Child Left Behind’s failed policies will be just as difficult. Hopefully the bipartisan group in Congress can at least reach an agreement regarding the fact that something definitely needs to be done.