For almost 10 years, educators have railed against the No Child Left Behind law, saying it imposed unachievable testing mandates and was underfunded. They were right.
The 2002 signature law of the Bush administration forced teachers to teach to standardized tests, but no national standards for academic achievement existed. No Child Left Behind resulted in labeling more than a third of the nation’s public schools as failures even though states in their own patchwork way ginned up exams that actually lowered the academic bar.
Finally relief may be on the horizon. The Obama administration is proposing to dismantle the existing law and replacing it with one that helps struggling schools make progress instead of penalizing those that don’t meet benchmarks.
The push is for states to enact standards ensuring that graduating high school students are ready for college or careers by 2020, replacing No Child Left Behind’s goal of grade-level proficiency by 2014.
A big plus is states would be able to use subjects other than reading and math to measure whether they are meeting the new federal goals. No Child Left Behind excluded such subjects as art, music, history and social science. Those areas were often neglected in the classroom.
The Obama administration is pushing for the new law this year, which seems ambitious. But the nation’s schools certainly could use the additional resources and flexibility the law promises for high-poverty schools. There is some pain in the proposal for the lowest performing 5 percent of schools, which could be subjected to aggressive measures such as state takeover, replacing the principal, replacing half the teaching staff or closing the school.
The proposed change has pitfalls that should be addressed.
It puts high expectations on teachers to lift underperforming students to academic excellence. The Obama administration must ensure teachers will get the support, training and collaboration time they need to be able to do the additional work.
Also, the bill must not follow in the footsteps of No Child Left Behind and impose a host of unfunded mandates on states and school districts. And it should provide for a national exam that students would have to take to prove they are
proficient in core subjects.
The president and Congress must work together on a plan to transform schools so that they provide students with the skills needed to be successful.
— The Kansas City Star