I am going to apologize ahead of time for the length of this blog entry. It cannot go without saying that I am opposed to No Child Left Behind and its restrictions upon educators. In short, welcome to my soapbox entry.
My full-time job is well, Mom, however, I do have a part-time job that actually draws a monetary paycheck; I am an adjunct professor teaching Public Policy Administration. One of my courses discusses the effects of No Child Left Behind on our education system. I would like to share a portion of that lecture.
It goes without saying that education is a passion of mine and many of you reading this blog also share in this passion. In speaking with fellow parents, as well as educators and administrators, there is a common sentiment regarding our country’s responsibility to make education a priority and implement viable solutions. In my research, I came across articles that discussed the impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) upon educators and students; the sentiment was eerily similar, NCLB has done more harm than good.
As a parent, I have one opportunity to essentially get it right for my children and education plays a major role in their development into productive and contributive citizens. My involvement as a parent is imperative not only to my children’s education, but serves as a connection between myself and my children’s teachers, school staff and administration. I am fortunate to be a part of the parent advisory committee for our school district. Meetings are hosted by the superintendent where issues affecting our school district are openly discussed. NCLB has made the agenda multiple times as a matter of grave concern as well has having a significant impact on our district.
Our school district is comprised of six elementary schools. The area where our school is located does not have any apartment complexes; therefore our transient population is significantly low, the majority of families are homeowners and our school area is predominantly single-family homes. It is my opinion that this homeownership stability contributes to the stability of our school community. Within the last two years, schools in our district began failing the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) per the stipulations of NCLB. “NCLB introduces a form of school choice for students when their schools fail to meet achievement standards,” (Simon, 2010, p. 227). As a result of the schools failing the mandated assessments, parents were given the option to move to schools that did not fail within the district. During the 2010-2011 school year only two schools passed the AYP, one of which was our school. The 2011-2012 school year brought great changes; our school was the only school to pass AYP. As a result, school of choice was open to every family in the district with the option to attend our school, whereby our school could potentially be forced to host approximately 1,800 students. Teachers, administrators and parents all expressed the same concern, overcrowding and a change in our community dynamic.
An argument of NCLB is to promote smaller class sizes in the failing schools in an effort to promote a better learning environment. However, studies have shown that smaller class sizes may not be the answer to the problems of failing schools. “Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, research suggests that targeted class size reductions – based on need or class subject area – would be a more affordable solution with the potential for greater impact,” (Simon, 2010, p. 231). So let us ask the question, if smaller class sizes, whether in a general classroom setting or subject based, are the ideal per NCLB, what about the non-failing schools that are forced to take on students as part of the school of choice option under NCLB?
Due to the school of choice option, by the start of the school year 96 students enrolled in our school; eight times more than the typical number of new students. While class sizes decreased in the failing schools; our classes grew by four to five students per class, topping up to 25 students per class, five to 10 more students as compared to years past. Classrooms and teachers were added to a school already pressed for space. How the increase in student enrollment will affect our future AYP scores is yet to be determined. Will we meet the same fate as our fellow schools and fail AYP? Only time will tell and then the question becomes “What now?”
What about NCLB and accountability? Who should be held accountable? “NCLB requires that schools be accountable to parents and schoolchildren by developing plans to monitor and improve educational outcomes,” (Simon, 2010, p. 226). NCLB, in my opinion, prevents schools from fulfilling their duties of education children. Teachers are held accountable for student performance; teaching subjects that are tested and ignoring others. “In fact, because of its misguided reliance on “one size fits all” testing, labeling and sanctioning schools, it has undermined many education efforts. Many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs,” (Strauss, 2012, para. 2). This sentiment is shared by many teachers I have spoken to; teachers are not afforded the opportunities to do what they are trained to do, that is teach. Teacher accountability; why are teachers solely accountable for the education of children? As parents, when did we relinquish our rights as educators of our children? If NCLB is being defined as a “one size fits all” approach that is failing, when will parents be held accountable for their child’s education?
Many factors come into play when educating a child. What legislators fail to take into account is the social-economic make up of the child. What if the child lives within the poverty threshold? What if the child lives within a poorer school district that cannot afford to meet the stringent guidelines of NCLB? What if the child comes from a family where their guardians are not educated, not involved or not present? NCLB is blind to a child’s home life, economic wellbeing and overall parent involvement.
No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face, (para. 7). As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards, (para. 11). (Ladd and Fiske, 2011)
So what about the parents? Again, my children’s school is an anomaly with a high parent involvement both within the Parent Teacher Association and the classroom; we can boast a 95 percent participation rate for Parent/Teacher Conferences. However, what we are seeing, with the shift in the economy, our volunteer base is diminishing due to parents returning to work after being stay-at-home moms for many years, myself included. However, being a working parent should not make anyone less accountable for their child’s education. So what about the parents? A few states are moving towards punishing parents for their lack of involvement in their child’s education. For example, Florida introduced a bill to require school administrators to grade parents’ involvement; Indiana wants to require parents to participate for a specified number of hours per semester; Maryland jails parents for truancy; Alaska fines parents for absences; and California passed a law that allows administrators to prosecute, fine and jail parents, (Strauss, 2011).
Will punishing parents solve our education problems? Probably not. Is it a start in attempting to address an epidemic that affects every community in our country? Maybe. An article I came across in The Washington Post suggested positive reinforcement, much like the positive behavior awards teachers attempt in the classroom, except apply them to involved parents. Sure hold parents accountable for not providing the needed support for their child’s education, but also recognize those parents that do participate and nurture their child. Then what should lawmakers consider in the reworking of NCLB? “Perhaps we should consider mandatory parenting classes, less substantial child tax credits, and community service hours for those whose children commit crimes or drop out of school due to behavior and/or academic problems,” (Strauss, 2011, para. 15).
Research has shown that by assisting parents, not punishing them, and addressing the social-economic needs of the child/family, does improve educational performance. “Researchers at the Prevention Research Center in Arizona studied the long-term effectiveness of parenting programs and found considerable evidence that such interventions positively impact children’s health and development demonstrated from one to 20 years after the program was delivered,” (Strauss, 2011, para. 15). In short, NCLB is not perfect by any means, evident by the results or lack thereof during its 10 years of implementation. Teachers see students for a short span of time, how can they be held accountable for student performance when a child’s home life may be substandard or non-existent. Additionally, if a student enters a school 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months into the school year, their teach will still be held accountable for their performance on the standardized tests, despite their limited length of time in the school. Law makers, in revamping NCLB must take a big picture approach and look at the child, not just the education system of the child. “Parents are the most power force on earth. Our laws and policies must take a step toward recognizing that,” (Strauss, 2011, para. 21).
I appreciate my readers indulging my soapbox performance regarding NCLB. Within the next few weeks I will be meeting Senator McCaskill’s office and I hope to discuss this topic, voicing my concerns for the education of our children. If you share my sentiment, let your representatives know, it is easier than you think to get in touch with them. An email is worth a 1,000 words (more or less). Remember, united we are one voice for our children.
Ladd H. & Fiske, E. (December 11, 2011). The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?pagewanted=all
Simon, C.A. (2010). Public Policy: Preferences and Outcomes (2nd ed). New York: Pearson Longman.
Sisson, C. (January 13, 2012). A decade later: Was No Child Left Behind the answer? The Dispatch. Retrieved from: http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=15048#ixzz1jY3FUHco
Strauss, V. (January 7, 2012). A decade of No Child Left Behind: Lessons from a policy failure. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-decade-of-no-child-left-behind-lessons-from-a-policy-failure/2012/01/05/gIQAeb19gP_blog.html
Strauss, V. (June 8, 2011). Holding parents accountable: Grades? Fines? Jail? The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/holding-parents-accountable-grades-fines-jail/2011/06/07/AG0D4VLH_blog.html