A true measure of this nation’s ability to educate its young people has been as difficult to achieve as the assignment.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was a worthy effort, but its flaws have been exposed over the decade, betrayed by the results: This nation isn’t getting any better at educating our children, and we doubt that anything fundamental will change until discipline again rules in the halls of our schools.
President Bush’s landmark legislation, which was crafted with the help of an unlikely ally, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, tried to bring accountability to our educational system, something that had been absent, mostly in the near impossibility of removing sorry teachers because of tenure. It also took aim at the practice of schools discarding students deemed incapable of keeping up, too many of them minority, thus the name of the legislation.
The immediate problem with the legislation was that teachers, understanding their students’ grades reflected on their security and potential bonuses, began “teach to the test,” so learning stepped aside in favor of memorizing. That has yet to be remedied.
But another problem is that the public has never been able to decipher the measuring stick that has been used by No Child Left Behind to judge schools and teachers. Recently the state released the results of Adequate Yearly Progress at individual schools, a measure of how many children were “proficient” at reading and math as demonstrated by standardized tests. In Robeson County, just seven of 42 schools — 16. 7 percent — hit the marks, but we were not out of step with contiguous counties. Bladen, Columbus and Hoke counties each only had one school meet the standards, and the percentage of schools hitting AYP was 26.3 in Scotland County and 22.6 in Cumberland County.
All of these percentages are headed in the wrong direction when compared with years past.
Does that mean these systems are doing a poor job of educating children? It’s hard to know, which we see as the problem. No Child Left Behind calls for increasing standards, a moving target that makes year-to-year comparisons more complicated. Two years ago more than half of Robeson County’s schools hit AYP, last year 13 did, and this year just seven, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our schools are in a free fall.
It will get worse if No Child Left Behind isn’t scrapped. By the 2013-14 school year, every child in a school would have to perform at or above grade level in reading and mathematics or that entire school will have been flunked. Obviously it’s a faulty conclusion to judge an entire school by the ability of a single student to achieve.
It’s been a turbulent decade for No Child Left Behind, which was never embraced by educators who found it unfair, students who tired of the standardized tests, or parents who were confused by it all. The need to educate this nation’s young people has never been more urgent — and we must find a better way to know if that is happening.