It’s not difficult to see that America’s education system may need a little more work. There are those who complain about the graduation rates, our international rankings against other countries, and how there doesn’t seem to be much progress lately. In fact according to the Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, countries like Germany, Hong Kong, and Brazil are doubling, even tripling our academic improvement (Zhao). And there’s the issue of education equity, where the rich are receiving all the resources that the poor only hope to get. So what are we trying to do to fix these problems? The government isn’t backing down. There are different initiatives the government has taken to address the issues infecting our education system.
When we think of education reform by the government, we most often think about the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. And the stigma attached to it isn’t so good. But why?
The NCLB Act was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002. Its main purpose was to provide incentive so that each and every student had proficient skill sets in reading, math, writing, and science. It hoped to boost the academic performance across the nation for all. Specifically, it expanded the federal role in education and took a particular aim at improving the education for disadvantaged students. Its method to measure our nation’s academic performance was standardized testing. The act states that states were required to begin testing for students in grades three to eight annually in subjects like reading and mathematics. By 2007 to 2008, they tacked on science testing in all tiers of secondary education. Through the scores on these tests, the nation could measure if a certain school was doing its job and performing at sufficient levels. Individual schools had to meet at “adequate yearly progress”. Whether a school achieved that was based on a formula detailed in the law; if a school failed to meet this mark two years in a row, the school would be provided technical assistance and its students could choose to go to another public school.
So what about NCLB caused such a whirlwind in education reform? It’s the issue that NCLB is a one size fit all education reform law. The problem with that is that we are not one size. Many state that its requirement to evaluate school progress through one test, one test that every students needs to take, including those who speak English as a second language and those who are in special education. Thus, those schools who have a higher population of this group of children are at a disadvantage, not because the school is bad, but because the students are being compared to other students who maybe have more resources or those students whose first language IS English. As Susan J. Hobart states in her article in “The Progressive”, “whether they have a cognitive disability, speak entry-level English, or have speech or language delays, everyone takes the same test and the results are posted. Special education students may have some accommodations, but they take the same test and are expected to perform at the same level as general education students. Students new to this country or with a native language other than English must also take the same test and are expected to perform at the same level as children whose native language is English. Picture yourself taking a five-day test in French after moving to Paris last year”. So many argue that NCLB doesn’t fix broken, less well-off schools with a poorer student body (mostly those in big cities), but penalizes them with removal of funding. And many argue that it removes the stimulating material that teachers are passionate about teaching. Instead, teachers are forced to teach testing skills and teach to those national tests. Where’s the magic in that?
But President Obama is presently attempting to reform NCLB in addition to placing new reforms to improve our education system. In March of 2010, the Obama Administration sent Congress a Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, addressing the issues created by No Child Left Behind while pursuing high standards and closing the achievement gap. The reforms include putting in place an accountability system that will “recognize and reward high-poverty schools and districts that are showing improvement in getting their students on the path to success, using measures of progress and growth” (White House). The blueprint for reform also mentions creating methods in order to effectively evaluate teachers to “enhance the profession”, which is vital in attracting bright teachers to teach the next generation of innovators.
The Obama Administration also is putting in place Race to the Top, which targets the vital piece of education, teaching effectiveness. This initiative offers bold incentives to states willing to spur systemic reform to improve teaching and learning in America’s schools. Because it’s difficult to attract good teachers, especially in those inner city schools where one teacher can spark the minds of many students.
It’s exciting to think of reform happening right now. The NCLB, although raised a controversy, did put much attention onto the issue of America’s education system. What results from the new initiatives put into place is yet to come.
Zhao, Emmeline. “Education Olympics: How Does America Rank Compared To Other Countries? (INFOGRAPHIC).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 July 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.