Secretary of Education Discussion 2: No Child Left Behind

Carol Broos is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Jan 21. She was sent five questions in preparation for the meeting. This is the second one:

How shall the tenets of the No Child Left Behind act be altered or invigorated? What are its positives? How can its negatives be improved?

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Raise the standards for educators. Let's restore respect for this profession, if not elevate it to a level it hasn't seen yet in this country (USA). A reliance on standardized test scores targets basic knowledge retention. It doesn't measure quality teaching. You can invigorate NCLB in so many ways. Students deserve accountability for their time spent learning, but this accountability should be mandated from a far more local level. Delegate choice to the state level. Encourage authentic learning and assessment over bubble sheets. But above all, make efforts to raise the quality of the school experience. This is difficult to do from the "top down."
In my experience, this impossible to do from the "top down", if the top is the federal and state levels.
Whenever you have goals to improve the lives of children through education, then this is usually a good thing. Problem when you raise standards, you also need to raise the level of resources available and that is the main problem that I have with NCLB implementation. Many schools in urban centers have the lack of good quality resources that its suburban partners live with. In this respect, NCLB helped to re-segregate our schools not only based on class but reconfirmed the fact that students of color, and poor economic situations, would be further marginalized. I believe that the U.S. Department's Growth Model should be more widely used and implemented. Its great that NCLB wants to raise student achievement but it should also have a plan on how it will support schools, both academically and financially, who are making good-faith efforts to increase an increasingly disengaged, reading-below grade level, demographic.
NCLB has really increased accountability for so many schools. Test scores seem to rise and there are many success stories, but the simple black and white test scores do not demonstrate the amount of authentic learning happening in many schools.

In my district, we have many students who move into the school reading at a second grade level in fifth grade and leave reading at a fourth grade level. A standardized test does not measure this amazing progress it only marks the child as not meeting standards. This same student might be the one creating an amazing musical tribute to Dr. Suess after reading and researching for weeks. This students deserves more recognition than..."reads below grade level" on a standardized test.

And when you have an entire school of learners like this and the school does not meet standards, they are forced to restructure. This is the kind of situation that makes NCLB more hurtful than helpful.

Maybe more of a balance is needed between standardized tests and authentic assessment.
sounds like all you want is talk-- no action. You may not like NCLB but it has caused many teachers where I work to rethink" how we have always done education" Rattling the tree is not a bad thing. I am not afraid to have my skills as a teacher assessed and compared. My students score with the best and I teach in a rural lower middle class school.... out in the corn fields!!!!! Mine are tested by the state in May and on Advanced Placement Exams. We hold are own and we are very rural.
I agree with John that the accountability needs to be on the students and as I mentioned in my previous post that the respect for schools and the profession of teaching is integral to us improving our school systems. With that said, one of the fundamental problems (beyond all of the things mentioned by others about funding and authenticity of assessment) is that by focusing on a minimum competency we do not foster a desire for understanding nor do we teach anyone to excel. The extent to which our academically gifted students have been mistreated by NCLB is outrageous. We are inspiring kids to be "good enough".
Standardized testing currently measures a snapshot of performance rather than performance over time. Even when calculating yearly progress, the measures are not a one to one comparison. Next, results from standardized testing are not received in a timely manner. Further, accomodations are not made for English Language Learners. What we end up measuring is language rather than content or reasoning skills. Testing should be formative, not summative. If test scorers cannot turn around the results in a timely manner they should scrap the tests altogether.
NCLB was a renaming of the ESEA, and is our nation's overall federal commitment to education, so this is a BIG question! For starters, I would:

1. Rename it while re-working it. NCLB, while at first a bi-partisan agreement, also ushered in many new (neocon) policy positions and is indelibly linked now with the Bush era. The U.S. can do better for its education system than we have over the last 8 years and a new act should encompass the new vision and hope.

2. Keep some forms of standardized accountability but build in more professional judgment and external peer review - make the accountability community more like a scientific community and less like a bean-counting bureaucracy. I fully agree with the assessment-sensitive comments that we can have a higher form of accountability (more valid, as reliable) than bubble-test results. Do not play into the mass-produced test-maker monoply! Witness how states fudged results anyway; and the shameful way that districts played the game.

3. Create policy and accountability that encourages innovative creative emergence of the "spirit of the law" rather than be-grudged acquiescence and following the "letter of the law?"

4. Re-configure the Department of Education to act like a knowledge-producing body rather than a funding dispersal organization. Program officers with real expertise in their area should be given latitude to develop long time-frame research and development agendas and the emerging communities of interest (including the obvious self-interests) should operate in the open, with external peer review, fluidity (e.g. don't have programs just exist in year two because they were here in year 1) and adaptability to new external forces.

5. Connect the mission of the Department and its main funding act to the main national agenda. For example, if we as a nation are working on energy independence and we need a solution in 10 years, then let's get our 5 year olds thinking about the problem! Put each item of national priority into the center of the problem space and ask the schools and communities to help solve the problems by legitimately including children in the process. They wind up inheriting the mess the adults make, so they deserve a real chance at influencing things. Problem-centered education would then not only be a choice that an individual teacher might make to engage their students, but would be the way we do education in the U.S.
Forget standardized tests because they simply don’t work

Forget standardized tests. The last report on how well President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program clearly demonstrates how our children’s capacity to read and comprehend what they are reading has not increased over the tenure of NCLB. Once again this under-funded education policy has nothing to do with success and has everything to do with politics and beaurocracy. The concept that a standardized test can force our nation’s schools to succeed in educating our children is a failed one.

For the past few months I have talked about how this program is failing our children. This is an easy thing to do. It is more difficult to try and find solutions that will make our schools stronger. Last year, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire contacted me and asked if I would be interested in working with them on public care issues that was financially supported by a grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I told them I would be interested in working with them on the grant.

Working with the Dartmouth people I discovered that many grants offered by the National Science Foundation and privately funded organizations striving to motivate our students toward science and mathematics has community outreach aspects written into the grant itself. In other words, many colleges and universities can only have access to federal or private grant money if they reach out to their communities. What could be a better way to motivate my students than to get them interested in state-of-the-art activities at some of our more prestigious colleges and universities?

Using the Dartmouth Grant I connected my anatomy & physiology students with Beth Israel Hospital, which is the teaching hospital for Harvard University. At the hospital they were able to tour a brand new pulmonary unit, watch a pulmonary procedure on cancer patients via video feed and work with life-sized, anatomically correct robot like-simulated patients. There were no tests after this experience. No multiple choice questions to see if they learned what some instructor, politician, or national testing company deemed they should know. They were simply motivated to study for their future in a science they thought interesting.

It is critical to get our students motivated early. Working with Boston University Medical School’s City Lab I sent down 40 sixth and seventh graders to study biotechnology. They worked with sickle cell anemia and forensics. They used micro-pipettes and electrophoresis tables in order to become enthralled in a science that will become a part of all their lives. Like the anatomy students there were no tests to be taken, no comparisons to other schools, and no threat of taking funds away. There was only learning taking place. Learning that will evolve into motivation that will evolve into a future for both themselves and their society.

There are many National Science Foundation studies going on in all of the states of our nation desperately trying to motivate our young to go into science and mathematics. Nano-technology or the study of very small things is the new science spreading through most of our universities and industries. The philosophy of our public education system should be all about getting institutions of higher learning to expose our kids to real life scientific experiences and get them charged up about science. The concept that standardized tests will save our public education system is and should be dead. By the way, all of these programs do not cost the tax payers a dime. All the schools have to do is give their teachers time to promote the programs. They can get this time by scrapping the concept of teaching to a test that means absolutely nothing.

The only positive for the No Child Left Behind program is its name.
Let us leave no child behind; let us remember that we are teaching children. We are not soldering the doors onto Ford Escapes, we are centering the attention of diverse minds to open the doors of future of possibilities which we cannot even imagine.

Standards and expectations propel us to excel. However, the NCLB model belongs way back in the nineteenth century. We've learned so much about how children learn, and all children can learn. However, all fourth graders do NOT learn at the same time at the same rate in the same way, and not simply because those fourth graders are all children from different environments--they all have different strengths and talents. Imagine instead that children investigate collaboratively on projects in educational networks that involve experts and peers from around the world so that each student uses the content and language arts skills needed to produce required results. We won't leave kids behind if we expect high standards in a positive and engaging learning environment that encourages strengths rather than punishes progress by deliberating on deficits. Don't we want to base our educational system on more comprehensive research reflective of disciplines that influence learning from managerial success to to brain research? All of those emphasize growth when people are valued and encouraged, when strengths of all the people involved (teacher and learner) become the focus. From the top down and bottom up, isn't it clear that education must move from demoralizing, punishing detractions to positive, professional interactions?

Strenghths-based Research
Gallup Organization

Pew Foundation

Learning and Teaching in a Democracy
Absolutely, I can't understand why the research and knowledge about how children learn has never reached the real classroom, or the curriculum-standard writers, or the test creators. For years, I've been wondering in pain what happens to all this research and why don't we apply it in every classroom every day :( Students-teachers learn that in theory and then are forced to follow the curriculum that does not fit the level of their students.
Why don't we have a computer in the hands of every child to help him or her grow at his or her own pace? I don't mean we have to have the students on computers all the times, I mean that a computer is a pen, a book, a calculator, a brush, a camera, and many more things. It's the tool for almost any activity. I think even gym teachers could use wii with their classes.


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