Review of No Child Left Behind

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Since the beginning of my college career at Spring Hill, I have been a part of the Foley Center work-study program. I have worked at elementary, middle, and high schools since my freshman year. These schools are located in the poor areas of Mobile and the students have very low socioeconomic status. On the American Psychological Association website, I found statistics comparing students of high socioeconomic status to those of low socioeconomic status. Studies from 2002 and 2008 showed that students from low socioeconomic status were more likely to struggle with language and math skills and were more likely to struggle with reading. A study from 2008 shows that students with low socioeconomic status graduated high school 4.3 grade levels inferior to those with high socioeconomic status. Another study from 2008 found that the dropout was 16.7% for students with low socioeconomic status, while the dropout rate for those with high socioeconomic status was only 3.2%. (“Education & socioeconomic,” n.d., para 7). On the U.S. Department of Education website, I read a summary of the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted by George W. Bush in an attempt to alleviate these differences and improve public school systems in these poor areas (“Archived,” 2004). Through these facts and my personal experiences tutoring, I do not think this policy has accomplished its goals.

            One of the central ideas and main focuses of the No Child Left Behind Act is “increased accountability.” Schools were given higher standards, progress goals, and annual tests for 3rd through 8th grades to assess their progress. Schools that did not meet their goal of “adequate yearly progress” would be subject to comply to increased focus on further improvement and then budget cuts and restructuring programs if they did not meet adequate yearly progress for five years in a row (“Archived,” 2004). While holding schools accountable seems effective in theory, it is not very realistic in practice. Students who come from low socioeconomic status who are not receiving an adequate education often have parents who had a similar school experience and are not capable of assisting with schoolwork. Working in the first grade class room at the elementary school opened my eyes to just how little support children in these areas receive outside of school. For most of these children, learning to read takes one-on-one attention and a lot of practice. These children are not receiving that at all outside of school, and a teacher with 15-30 students cannot possibly provide enough attention to all of these children. There is simply not enough time in the day.

I also saw that because of these difficulties, testing requirements can lead to unethical behavior. In order to pass tests that kept them on track for the annual testing, the teacher was forced to teach the exact problems from the test before they would take it. Even after teaching them exactly what would be on the test, many of them still struggled to pass, because the material was more difficult than what they had the ability to learn. In a USA today article I read about the policy, an eighth grade teacher name Jennifer Ochoa made an interesting point when she said, “Afterward, it didn't matter how far you came if you didn't make this outside goal," Ochoa said. "We started talking about kids in very different ways. We started talking about kids in statistical ways instead of human being terms” (“Promise,” 2012). Kids in every area are very different. Improvement is subjective in different areas of the country as well as on an individual level. Setting everyone to one standard is unrealistic and an impossible goal to reach.

            Another goal of No Child Left Behind was to make sure every child could read by the 3rd grade by the year 2014 (“Archived,” 2004). On the RAND website, I read about a study they conducted in order to assess the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind. In 2003, after the program had been in place for two years, their study showed that the average performance by fourth graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Test was between 10- 43% (“Meeting Literacy,” 2005). This does not surprise me at all due to my experiences at the elementary school. Kindergarteners were entering school with absolutely no background in reading or math. Toward the end of the first semester, I was still struggling to teach them to name all of the letters of the alphabet. Toward the end of the year in the first grade class room, many were still struggling to read without sounding out many of the words. Although they still had a few more years to meet this requirement, the teachers in second and third grade have to teach with an assumption that the children already know how to read in order to meet the requirements of those grades. If they receive no help outside of school, I do not think that they will improve and be able to read proficiently by the third grade.

            Although I think No Child Left Behind was unrealistic overall, I think it made a few improvements. No Child Left Behind required that diagnostic tests be administered to students to identify which students are “at risk” of falling behind in their reading abilities (“Archived,” 2004). I saw this work effectively at the elementary school. The teacher assigned me to work with those students who were considered “at risk,” and we spent one-on-one time together working on their particular weaknesses. These children were able to improve because the help was tailored specifically to their needs. I have experienced a similar success at the high school where I am currently tutoring. Although I do not know if these children are labeled “at risk” or not, they have been chosen by their teachers to attend our after school program because they are struggling in some way in school. Each child works with the same individual tutor every week, so that that person can come to know his or her strengths and weaknesses and the most effective way to teach them. I think identifying the children that need the most help is a productive way to improve a school as a whole.

            No Child Left Behind also requires teachers to attend training classes to learn about the most recent scientific research in education (“Archived,” 2004). My father worked as a special education teacher in Birmingham, Alabama when No Child Left Behind was enacted. When I asked him what he thought about the training sessions he told me, “Yes, I received additional training, mostly in staff meetings. They would set it up like a class and teach. It made me a better teacher because it made me aware of new research and techniques.” Although he had been a special education teacher for 40 years when the policy was put into place, he still benefitted from additional training. As we have learned in class, research is done all the time, but the results are not always applied. Through these training programs, teachers are required to learn of new research and can then hopefully apply what they learn to their classroom. I also think they do not have to be a burden, because as my dad pointed out, they can just be added to regularly scheduled staff meetings.

            I read about President Obama’s solution to the problem in a New York Times article. His plan was to issue waivers to over half of states that excluded them from the requirement of making all students proficient in reading and math by 2014, a requirement of No Child Left Behind. Schools that received waivers were required to implement accountability systems and develop college preparation programs for their students. Those who did not meet those requirements would be subject to interventions to improve their educational programs. This way, states can focus on the bottom five percent of schools instead of worrying about every school’s adequate yearly progress (“No child,” 2012).

            Personally, I think the best way to improve public schools in poor areas is through tutoring programs. I have seen so many children and young adults improve through the programs I have been a part of through the Foley Center. Children are so different in their strengths and weaknesses and how they learn. Within any particular school, students can be on so many different levels of knowledge and ability. Personalized help is the only way some of these students will be able to improve. If funds were provided to programs like the Foley Center and non-profit organizations wanting to go into these schools and make a difference, I think they could be completely turned around. Putting all the responsibility on teachers to teach these students everything they need to know to succeed is unrealistic, because there simply is not enough time in the seven-hour school day. Students need one-on-one help, and when they do not or cannot receive it outside of school, tutoring programs are the key to their success.

 


 

References

 

Archived: Executive summary of the no child left behind act of 2001 (2004). Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.html

 

Education & socioeconomic status.  Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-education.aspx

 

McCombs, J. S., Kirby, S. N., Barney, H., Darilek, H., & Magee, S. J. (2005). Meeting literacy goals set by no child left behind. Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9081-1/index1.html

 

No child left behind act (2012). Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_...

 

Promise of no child left behind falls short after 10 years (2012). Retrieved September 30, 2012, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-01-07/no-child-...