No Child Left Behind: 10 Years Later, What Have We Learned?

by Krischa Esquivel

 January 8, 2012 marked the 10 year anniversary of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which has become one of the most controversial educational legislations passed.  It has become common place, almost expected, that NCLB be viewed in a negative light and that what was created has not worked, to the point where the No Child Left Behind Reauthorization has been passed as a way to NOW get the desired results.  So what’s the truth behind this Law?  Has NCLB done what it was intended to do?  Has the educational system in the United States benefitted at all from this Law, or has precious time and money we do not have been wasted?

In the interest of remaining neutral and recognizing that complete success is rarely achieved the first time introduced, we will examine both the successes and some the challenges this very controversial law has achieved.

One of the main things NCLB did was bring education to the forefront.  For years, the field of education was simply left to the teachers and administrators. Nobody paid much attention to what was going on in the schools.  The assumption was that children were learning because they were matriculating from grade to grade.  But was that truly the case?

 Although NCLB requires a great deal of child testing, this also brings about a level of accountability never seen before.  One of the problems with new accountability programs and looking at factors never examined is that we are forced to see shortcomings no one has ever imagined.  Teachers begin to feel as if they are being looked at under a microscope, parents are now scrutinizing a system that “has always worked,” and all of a sudden it seems like children are not learning as much as we all hoped.

New research brought light to the education gap that is very well known these days between minorities and income levels.  This was a concept never imagined before.  Schools were now being monitored closely.  It was no longer business as usual!  That’s a good thing, right?

In a quest to now bring ALL children to a specific level and to bring ALL schools up to a certain standard, one very important factor was forgotten: ALL children do not, will not, and cannot learn content at the EXACT same time.  What was discussed behind closed doors and the plans that were to be implemented in the classroom had one major glitch and most educators and administrators were aware of this, yet they were now MANDATED to teach in a very specific way.  How was this going to work?  How were teachers going to teach all children the same content at the same time and raise test scores?

The answer is now very clear as we acknowledge the 10 year anniversary: they were given an impossible task.  A bar had been set and all children, regardless of their ability, were expected to reach that level.  And teachers, knowing a child would not be successful (at that time), were now being threatened with job loss while administrators were watching funds being cut and schools being closed. Is this the result of a successful program?

So what have we learned?  We have learned that not all children learn the same content at the same time, and that needs to be ok.  We have learned that yes, accountability is necessary and needed in our public school systems, but not at the detriment of teacher jobs, funding and schools.

We have learned that as Americans and as parents, we all want our children, our future, to succeed.   We now have the daunting task of taking the steps to ensure this happens.  Will the Reauthorization Act ensure this happens?  Only time will tell.  But one thing the Reauthorization Act will do is ensure education and the needs of children stay on the forefront of American Political conversations.  It will ensure teachers are held accountable.  For some teachers this will propel them to the next level.  For others who may not be up to the task of educating some of our most at risk children, this may run them out of the field of education.

At the end of the day, all we can do is stay informed, advocate for a system that works, and pay close attention to what is going on not only in public schools, but in the Legislation being passed as well.  Do you have any experiences, successes, or challenges you would like to share regarding NCLB?  Please leave a comment below.

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