Most Children Left Behind?

29 06 2011

When I was in school, teachers had curriculum to follow, and much of what I was forced to learn I felt at the time was not important. I believe those teachers understood that it was not what I learned but that I learned how to learn. The things I found boring and useless were interesting and fascinating to other students. Those educational interests are what will lead you to different places in your life. You should be able to think for yourself, find the values in what you know and believe, develop self-esteem, and work in an industry where you can always learn, grow, and prosper. This line of thought led me to examine the pros and cons of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It is more complicated than I would have guessed, but I hope to cover many of the salient points of the topic.

PROS: If all tests are carefully designed to be consistent with the learning expected in every classroom, there should be a distinct connection between curriculum, assessment, activities in the classroom, and most importantly, cognitive learning.
2.) Common standards are important because it is difficult to compare grades across schools and teachers because of local “norms”. A level playing field in education would be the ideal situation – unfortunately this situation does not exist.
3.) Decades of study now show that the quality of teachers’ tests are very weak compared with rigorously developed long-term tests.
4.) One reason the American educational system is failing is because there have not been high stakes for failure. A number of studies have indicated a strong positive relation between high stakes consequences and performance on assessments.

CONS: Standardized tests oversimplify knowledge and do not test higher-order thinking skills. SAT scores between the 1970s and 1980s declined. Why? More students decided to attend college than ever before and they took the SAT tests. This does not indicate a scoring decline, but rather a skewing of the numbers. In fact, SAT scores have been on an upward trend from the early 1990s through the 2000s.
2.) Standardized tests do not take into account the interaction between teachers and their students in the complex social system in todays classrooms. The largest single factor in the problem with our education system appears to be the instability of both families and communities.
3.) Important learning outcomes are simply not measured by standards testing. Standardized tests measure little more than socioeconomic status – administrators and teachers should not be held responsible for scores reflecting what has happened to their charges before. These tests fail to differentiate instruction for different kinds of children, and condemn low-achieving students to learning in an unproductive and boring system.
4.) High-stakes accountability systems create negative consequences: higher dropout rates and lower retention skills, not to mention unethical test preparation/teaching to the test.

My point is simply that the cons outweigh the pros by a very large margin. It is time for No Child Left Behind to go away or change drastically. Maybe this time our teachers and educators can work together to devise a better model for a system. Politicians are obviously not where we should look for this type of direction. One of the principal authors of “No Child Left Behind” was Margaret Spellings, who served in many capacities under George Bush, mostly in the field of education. Ms Spellings has never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education. In fact, she appears to have less qualifications than I have discussing this very topic.




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