NCLB: Time to Go?

The so-called No child Left Behind Act is up for renewal in this coming year.

It is time to overturn NCLB. In school districts serving low-income and minority students it is having the effect of turning teachers into automatons who are expected to simply read a script written by text book companies, ignoring their professional knowledge of how to best meet the needs of their students, and even ignoring the responses of this teaching on the students. This is not only ineffective teaching, it is cruel to the students, as it builds a relationship where students feel ignored, and teachers feel frustrated. I see many teachers becoming cynical and angry. The best teachers are, or are considering, leaving the field, as they feel this is not teaching. What is the point of having highly qualified teachers, if they are not allowed to use that knowledge to make meaningful decisions about the teaching of their students?

The effect this curriculum is having on these students is to reduce the fare of learning to out-of-context arithmetic and language arts instruction, geared directly to test testing. Not only has it reduced what it means to be educated solely to these subjects, but even there it is likely to result in a poor understanding of these subjects. As multiple choice tests cannot do a decent job of testing one’s problems solving, critical thinking, or ability to analyze, many of the most important aspects of what it means to be a good reader or mathematician, not to mention just a well-educated adult are lost and ignored. This one-size-fits-all curriculum imposed on children in districts that cannot easily meet the test score bar is demotivating for most students. The are likely to learn that these subjects are boring and meaningless, not too mention difficult, whose sole purpose is to subject them to a test at the end of the year (actually every 6 weeks as well, to use as benchmarks)—a test whose result they often interpret as evidence of their own stupidity.

As much research on learning has shown, the relationship between teachers and students matters as much, if not more than, the curriculum or methods for ensuring student success, especially for low-income and minority students. The scripted curriculum being mandated by many school districts in the name of NCLB has created classrooms that are even more alienating, not just in terms of the relevance of the curriculum but also in terms of how teachers are encouraged to treat students as test scores rather than human being.

While it is important for schools to be held accountable, this is not real accountability. This situation is similar to what happens when corporations focus solely on short term profits. When they only look at profits, they often ignore issues such as the quality of the product itself, the treatment of employees, or the effects on the environment—or even the effects on long term profits!  When we look solely at the test scores from multiple choice standardized tests that measure only the smallest portion of a rich curriculum, we miss and ignore much of what it means to be well-educated, and in fact discourage schools from developing anything else for their students. Just as a corporation’s focus on short term profits harms the long term stability and health of the company (as we saw in the Enron scandal, just to name the most infamous), focusing on short term test results equally harms the long term learning of students. Teaching for deep understanding, which sets the foundation for a long-term understanding of the material, is often sacrificed for a shallow knowledge that allows the teacher to “cover” all the material that will be on the test just well enough so the students can pass it. However, such understanding is often short-lived, and not sufficient for building further understanding of the subject. In the later grades the student pays for this when the material requires a deep and solid understanding of the previous material. And then band-aids, such as remedial classes, a longer day, and summer school—all basically repeating what didn’t work the first time—is offered as the solution.

While our educational system is far from perfect, the solution will not come from simple minded quick fix solutions. It certainly cannot come from those who are far removed from the reality of the schools and from the actual children. Let us bring the decisions of teaching and learning in our school back to where they belong in a democracy—into the hands of the community where the children live and out of the hands of Federal and State politicians.

Below are some places and organizations that are taking action to reform or abolish NCLB:

Both major teacher unions:

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) petition for the reform of NCLB:

National Education Association (NEA) has an online petition for fully funding and reforming NCLB.

School reform organizations:

Fairtest has an online petition calling for reforming NCLB:

Educator Roundtable petition for the repeal of NCLB

No Child Left: ” A site advocating a sound approach to school improvement.” Full of information advocating the NCLB be repealed or amended.

Students Against Testing “SAT is a nationwide network of young people who resist high stakes standardized testing and support real-life learning.”


This online petition, begun by educator and author Susan Ohanian calls for the dismantling of NCLB

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