Proposed NCLB Revisions Lack Quality

March 31, 2010 — by Vijay Menon and Abhi Venkataramana

Since its inception in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), former president George W. Bush’s controversial brainchild, has brought Washington, D.C., considerable flak from critics who claim that the bill has been ineffective and even detrimental to educational system.

Opponents of the bill cite poor tests results, a flawed standardized testing system and nationwide teacher shortages caused by stricter teaching qualifications, all as evidence for NCLB’s failure.

Recognizing these problems, President Barack Obama recently announced he would revise the bill, which is currently up for reauthorization in Senate. Though Obama may have good intentions in trying to fix the bill, many of his proposed fixes would instead weaken the bill and perhaps even undermine the original goal of improving education standards.

One of the large problems with the current NCLB bill is its overemphasis on standardized test scores. In an attempt to tweak the influence of these exams, the Obama administration seeks to promote other factors such as student “creativity.” The problem with this approach, however, is that it is simply impossible to measure such factors. While the current system that relies solely on testing is flawed, the new system compromises the rigorous standards that are needed to accurately assess quality of education and therefore do nothing to solve the problem. While standardized tests are not the perfect solution, they are the least subjective way to monitor improvement.

Obama’s proposed revisions also fall into the same trap that NCLB made by setting unrealistic standards. While Obama will scrap the NCLB goal of math and reading proficiency by 2014, he hopes to set a standard of “college readiness” by 2020. If the goal of proficiency is not likely to be met by 2014, Obama cannot reasonably expect for a nation with dropout rates of over 50 percent to become college ready in a mere 10 years. While the goals are admirable, Obama must start with baby steps.

Furthermore, Obama plans to ax NCLB provisions that promote accountability and student choice. He will be dropping the “adequate yearly progress” requirement and will allow local schools to independently assess penalties to failing schools. In addition, this system will continue to dole out benefits to failing schools while holding back incentives for improvement.

Obama is also taking away the right of students from failing schools to seek transfer to higher-performing schools. While Obama hopes that this will force failing schools to improve, he may also be compromising the learning environment of several higher-achieving students in taking away this critical lifeline.

In examining Obama’s package of revisions to NCLB, it seems that not much has been done to improve the broken system. Despite good intentions, it is unlikely that this reform will produce the results necessary to revitalize American education.

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