News

No Child Left Behind:  Does it Pass the Test?

Multimedia

Audio

Education in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local and state governments. But the federal government does influence education policy. Under the Bush Administration, that policy is known as No Child Left Behind.

The American taxpayer spends more than $500 billion per year to educate the nation's children. The federal government currently provides about 9 percent of that huge sum, for what Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings calls "the neediest students." "Poor kids, minority kids, special education students. That," Spellings says, "is what No Child Left Behind is about."

President Bush modeled his No Child Left Behind initiative, which Congress passed into law in 2002, after a similar program he instituted years ago, as Texas governor, to make education in his state more "businesslike." The law requires states "to set clear standards and hold schools accountable for teaching every child to read and do math at grade level."

Under the federal initiative, every publicly-funded school must regularly test students' math and reading skills. Those test scores are used to determine whether schools have met their standards.

Schools that fail to do so and show no signs of improvement from one year to the next face severe consequences, including, ultimately, the firing of the entire teaching staff and even the closing of the school.

That process is going on right now in Washington, D.C., where chancellor Michelle Rhee announced she would close 23 schools before the next academic year begins in the autumn.

There have been loud protests, but in a hearing on Capitol Hill, Rhee said the issues critics have raised were not taking the children's rights into account and were focused instead on adults.

"You know, job security and fairness and due process," Rhee told Congress. "The bottom line is the kids don't have due process. When you're a kid in D.C. public schools and you don't get the education you deserve in any given year - and that's the vast majority of our kids - you can't come into a city council meeting and get your parents' money back for that year."

Rhee asked Congress to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, or NCLB. "Do not water down NCLB. It is actually having an impact."

But Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or Fair Test, says the law is not having a positive impact.

"No Child Left Behind is a test-and-punish scheme that fails to deal with real problems in schools," Schaeffer says, adding it "ends up dumbing down educational quality."

He says NCLB lowers educational quality by focusing not only on a limited set of skills, but on a single test of those skills.

Schaeffer says Fair Test and more than 140 other organizations that belong to the Forum on Educational Accountability would like to see schools use multiple measures to assess schools. "So tests, portfolios, graduation rates, other reviews of school quality would come together to reach a judgment."

But Secretary Spellings disagrees, at least when it comes to determining where federal money for education should go. "If you have a curriculum that is sound and a measurement system that is aligned to it, then you want to teach to the test," Spellings says.

The Secretary also takes issue with those who disagree with the law's focus on reading and math skills at the expense of other areas. "I would suggest that without skills in those areas it is really hard to learn social studies or philosophy."

Schaeffer also finds fault with the law's failure to look at the many factors that may cause children to do poorly on exams.

"No Child Left Behind assumes that the sole cause of poor academic achievement happens in the classroom," he says. "Too many low-income kids come to school not ready to learn because of poverty and other factors that make it so difficult to learn no matter how good our schools are.

Schaeffer says addressing some of those factors may require special programs that aren't usually associated with education. "Such as better nutrition programs, (free or low-cost) breakfast and lunch, dental, and eye care, so students have the capacity to learn."

Schaeffer says good teachers are fleeing schools labeled as failures - most often those in low-income neighborhoods - and will continue to do so if teachers alone are held accountable for students who perform poorly.

Other concerns regarding No Child Left Behind include a lack of consistency regarding proficiency levels and testing methods from state to state. The law allows each state to set its own standards. Schaffer says, "Some states have set them quite low and continue to offer very poor education across the board. Others have set them very high and end up declaring decent schools failures."

States aren't likely to allow the government to set standards for them any time soon.

As for the future of No Child Left Behind, both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, say they will scrap the law if elected. Republican candidate John McCain says the law needs improvements, but shouldn't be discarded.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs