Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The No Child Left Behind Act OR should it be the Some Children May Be Left Behind Act?

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was meant to help our nations children become better educated by setting higher standards and establishing  measurable goals through state-wide standardized testing and higher qualified teachers.  A truly noble and significant endeavor.  But I think by now we can agree that its falling short of its intended goals.  The question of whether it is better educating our children, provides adequate measurements,  creates logical standardizations, and clear definitions for teacher qualifications is certainly debatable.  But, I think folks should have been able to predict that the devil was in the details.   States and therefore schools achievements and performances are tied to federal funding.  AHHH the bell (school bell that is) just went off, didn’t it?  Yes, what  Chancellor, Superintendent or Principal worth their salt would not want funding for their school or schools? 
How could anyone not expect that in time it would be less about the children and more about the funding?
Where the No Child Left Behind Act gets an F is in its design.  By its very nature of competition for funding it creates an ulterior motive, and more disappointing,  it creates a hardship on  the average and below average students than it does on the above average students.  In the race for good test scores, it prepares students for test taking rather than provides balanced learning.   It  focuses on subjects like reading, writing, and math while giving less focus on the other subjects.  There are many things that opponents of the Act could outline and other things proponents of the Act could point to.  But I would rather talk about ways to really better educate our children.   The GOP candidates talk in broad terms on repealing the law and changing the system.  Others provide more specific  alternatives like utilizing technology.  But I haven’t heard anyone talk about what I think is the core of the issue, in terms of education, which is addressing the individual aptitude of a child.    
Well, I have an idea.  And before I start , I realize that there will be many many reasons why this could not work.  Most notably ……money.  But if you can just keep in mind the “goal”  here.  Maybe, just maybe, it can ignite ideas that can result in measurable goals.  Like our children becoming better educated!
Let’s all first agree on a few simple premises. When a lesson or subject is taught in a classroom, some students will understand it better than others.  When a teacher explains a concept or theory, some students will get it quicker than others.  When a teacher is following a curriculum, some  teachers will capture the attention of students better than others.  And finally,  when tests are taken, some students will get higher grades than others.  Can we all agree on those assertions?   I think part of the problem is that there is simply not enough time and resources to dedicate in such a way that would provide attention where attention is needed.  The children that are above average do fine but the average and below average struggle to keep up and fall behind. And the No Child Left Behind Act is not designed to stop and wait for the child that is left behind to catch up.  Oh , one more assertion.  If every child had their own personal teacher sitting next to them in the classroom, would they do better on tests?  I won’t state the obvious but will confess that I realize it is not practical and of course unrealistic.   But how about  you hold on and see if we cannot work backwards from that extreme scenario? 
What  if we developed a program whereby teachers could conduct class for half the school day and then break the class up into small groups for the reminder of the day?  What if we could hire Teachers Assistants to work with the smaller groups and go over the days lesson, working closely to provid any needed extra attention or explanation?  Do you think test scores would improve? Much more importantly, do you think children would be better educated?   Understandably, we  cannot provide personalized attention  to each student but serious  reforms to the existing system has to head in that direction in a realistic and practical way,  instead of moving away from  that approach  in a  standardizing, test oriented, fund driven way.
One of the flaws in the Act is the lack of a clear definition of qualified teachers.  The other and I think the more egregious is the aim to create measurable goals through standardization of tests.  I think the very definition of standardization defines the problem.  How can we standardize something to be used as a measure against such a diverse group?  And by diverse I mean; a varied capacity for learning.  Can we really address the problem without addressing that?
My point is that if children were able to receive more attention in the classroom, they will learn better. And if they learn better, they will perform better on tests.  Maybe you put the burden on teachers to identify where attention is needed to provide more attention to students.  Maybe you provide them with tools to do that.  Either way the focus has to be on the student first and THEN the measuring, qualifications, definitions, and performances will take care of themselves.  But much more importantly, a child will learn.
That’s what I think.  What do you think?