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Pros & Cons of the No Child Left Behind Act

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School children (14-18) raising hands in class
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Pros

The primary positives of the No Child Left Behind Act include:

  • Accountability standards are set and measured annually by each state to foster educational growth and achievement. All results are also annually reported to parents.

  • Standards are set for teacher qualifications.

  • NCLB links state academic content with student educational outcomes, and requires school improvement be implemented using "scientific-based research" methods in the classroom, parent programs, and teacher development courses.

  • NCLB emphasizes reading, writing and math.

  • NCLB measures educational status and growth by ethnicity, and helps to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

  • NCLB requires schools to focus on providing quality education to students who are often underserved, including children with disabilities, from low-income families, non-English speakers, as well as African-Americans and Latinos.

  • Parents are provided annually with a detailed report of student achievement, and explanations are provided of achievement levels.

Cons

Major drawbacks of the No Child Left Behind Actinclude:

Federal Underfunding
The Bush Administration has significantly underfunded NCLB at the state level, and yet, has required states to comply with all provisions of NCLB or risk losing federal funds.

Said Sen. Ted Kennedy, a sponsor of NCLB and Senate Education Committee Chair, "The tragedy is that these long overdue reforms are finally in place, but the funds are not."

As a result, most states have been forced to make budget cuts in non-tested school subjects such as science, foreign languages, social studies and arts programs, and for books, field trips and school supplies.

Teaching to the Test
Teachers and parents charge that NCLB encourages, and rewards, teaching children to score well on the test, rather than teaching with a primary goal of learning. As a result, teachers are pressured to teach a narrow set of test-taking skills and a test-limited range of knowledge.

NCLB ignores many vital subjects, including science, history and foreign languages.

Problems with NCLB Standardized Tests
Since states set their own standards and write their own standardized NCLB tests, states can compensate for inadequate student performance by setting very low standards and making tests unusually easy.

Many contend that testing requirements for disabled and limited-English proficient students are unfair and unworkable.

Critics allege that standardized tests contain cultural biases, and that educational quality can't necessarily be evaluated by objective testing.

Teacher Qualification Standards
NCLB sets very high teacher qualifications by requiring new teachers to possess one (or often more) college degrees in specific subjects and to pass a battery of proficiency tests. Existing teachers must also pass proficiency tests.

These new requirements have caused major problems in obtaining qualified teachers in subjects (special education, science, math) and areas (rural, inner cities) where schools districts already have teacher shortages.

Teachers especially object to the Bush 2007 proposal to allow districts to circumvent teacher contracts to transfer teachers to failing and poorly-performing schools.

Failure to Address Reasons for Lack of Achievement
At its core, NCLB faults schools and curriculum for student failure, but critics claim that other factors are also to blame, including: class size, old and damaged school buildings, hunger and homelessness, and lack of health care.

Where It Stands

There's little doubt that the No Child Left Behind Act will be reauthorized by Congress in 2007. The open question is: How will Congress change the Act?

White House Kicks-Off Reauthorization Discussions
A meeting was held on January 8, 2007 at the White House to mark the 5th anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to kick-off Bush Administration discussons with Congress regarding reauthorization of the act.

Attendees at the meeting with President Bush and Education Secreatary Margaret Spellings were Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Chair of the Senate Education Committee; Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking Republican on that committee; Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chair of the House Education Committee; and Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), ranking Republican on that committee.

According to Sen. Enzi, "There was agreement we should proceed, and an agreement in principal on what needs to be done."

Religious, Civil Liberties Groups Propose NCLB Changes
More than 100 religious denominations and civil rights, education and disability advocacy groups have signed on to the "Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB", calling for changes to NCLB, and stating that:

"We endorse the use of an accountability system that helps ensure all children, including children of color, from low-income families, with disabilities, and of limited English proficiency, are prepared to be successful, participating members of our democracy...

... we believe the following significant, constructive corrections are among those necessary to make the Act fair and effective. Among these concerns are:

* over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation rather than richer academic learning;

* over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools;

* inappropriately excluding low-scoring children in order to boost test results;

* and inadequate funding.

Overall, the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."

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