No, yes, with changes. Some of the major goals of NCLB are to insure that all schools meet high standards of excellence, that all students are taught by highly qualified teachers, and that the programs that student are exposed to are research based. All of these are noble goals to be sure, however, as they say, the devil is in the details. There have been some positive consequences of NCLB. One is that schools have had to insure that all of their teachers are qualified to teach. This is especially important to minority students whose schools often have to resort to hiring teachers just to fill a space, or to have teachers teach subjects for which they are not certified. At the local level this has created problems to be sure. The only way that NCLB measures qualifications is through college coursework, or degrees. Just because a teacher has the academic credentials to teach math, for example is no guarantee that they can. Nevertheless, this mandate has probably had a positive effect on teacher quality – at least in terms of insuring that a math teacher is not placed in a position to teach social studies, for example.
Another positive effect of NCLB has been that the academic performance of student subgroups (as identified by race, gender, English language proficiency, and special education) within a school district or school cannot be hidden within the overall performance of the district or school. A school or district might have overall high scores on standardized measure of performance, but a subgroup within that district or school might be low. NCLB requires that student data be disaggregated so that the performance of individual subgroups is made public. The performance of subgroups will impact a school’s status. Schools and districts have to take action to address the performance issues of identified groups illuminated by the tests scores.
Some of the negative effects of NCLB have been its emphasis on accountability using standardized tests, restrictions on the use of educational programs and research, and funding.
One of the goals of NCLB is to get all students at grade level in Reading and Math by the year 2014, a noble goal to be sure. The problem is that it is possible to have all students at grade level. Standardized, norm referenced tests by definition will create a distribution where 50% of the students will be below average and 50% will be above average. Each student’s score will be compared to this distribution. States have established growth benchmarks that schools must meet in order to reach the NCLB goal. Schools that do not meet the benchmark are subject to various incremental sanctions up to closing a school and starting over.
NCLB requires that schools use programs that heave been researched and proven to be effective. The issue here is basically the difference between quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research is based on the classical experimental model of establishing control and experimental groups. This is almost impossible in educational research. In education it is not prudent to assign students to an experimental group and a control group. Quasi-quantitative and qualitative research is frowned upon and in some cases completely ignored. Yet the vast amount of research in education is this of type.
Funding is a major problem. NCLB mostly mandates certain actions but does not provide additional funding to the States to pay for development, coordination, and implementation. Most of the funding that is provided to some school districts is earmarked for specific items such as teacher training, tutoring programs by private companies, parent training, and specific instructional material at the school level.
Should NCLB be reauthorized? We think so, but it needs to be improved in a manner that will help schools and school districts to improve the quality of their services to their students, not punish schools. “. . . There’s a long way to go for the reauthorization to get to where it would need to be to ensure that we have the capacity-building in all of the communities of the country that’s needed, and the form of accountability that is supportive and productive for moving schools forward, rather than punitive and disruptive,” (Linda Darling-Hammond at Second Annual National Superintendents’ Forum, Reauthorization of NCLB: A New Era in Education? Sponsored by Zanor-Bloser, Inc. October 5–6, 2007 Palo Alto, California, http://www.edweek.org/media/viewpoints_zb.pdf).
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