Liberal education is a vanishing ideal in the contemporary West. The aim of liberal education is to produce people who go on learning after their formal education has ceased; who think, ask questions, and know how to find answers when they need them. People who are better informed and more reflective are more likely to be considerate than those who are – and who are allowed to remain – ignorant, narrow-minded, selfish, and uncivil in the profound sense that characterizes so much human experience now.
Since the No Child Left Behind Act has been instituted, it has been counterproductive. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires public schools to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students, holding them accountable and withholding federal funding if they fail to meet requirements. I am infuriated and bewildered by this law.
Many opponents of NCLB, including teachers and parents, do not like the idea of the testing that is provided in NCLB. They claim that “standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force.”
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that every year schools show Adequate Yearly Progress. They are required to increase the number of students who meet the state testing standards yearly. Every American public school is required to file a ‘report card’ giving an account of how many students from every school have met the state standards.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress recently reported in what has become known as the National Report Card, that the No Child Left Behind Act has failed to improve public school achievement since its implementation in 2002. Statistics show there has been little improvement in student math performance and almost no improvement in reading. There has been more improvement at the elementary level than there has been at the middle or secondary levels. The act has not reduced the gap that separates low income and students of color from the rest of the school population. The report card implies that many states have set their standards too low and that little has been done to assure all students qualified and experienced teachers.
Gifted students are being overlooked as many gifted services are being eliminated. They are spending more time reviewing for tests and learning how to take them and less time being challenged. Because of NCLB emphasis on achieving proficiency, curricula does not support advanced needs of these students.
After working in education for 20 years as a teacher, coordinator, and professor, I attended my very first parent-teacher conference as a parent. My daughter attended kindergarten, and I was eager to learn about her performance in school. Her teacher had taught kindergarten for more than 20 years and had a magical way of making her class of 22 five-year-olds feel comfortable and happy. When it came time for our conference, I pulled the primary-sized chair up to the primary-sized desk and sat across from the woman who was my daughter’s first teacher. She calmly explained that my daughter was doing just fine in school, and then proceeded to report how my daughter had performed, based on the state standards identified for kindergartners. She told me that my daughter could count to 10 and that by the end of the year, according to the standards, she would be able to count to 100. I quietly asked if she had ever asked my daughter to count to 100 and was told, “No, that standard isn’t expected until spring.” She went on to explain that I had nothing to worry about because my daughter had met all the standards. In other words, the teacher was communicating that she had done her job. Never mind that my daughter had impressive mathematical skills prior to kindergarten. The teacher had not checked out her existing skills or knowledge. Her job was to address the standards as dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, commonly known as NCLB.
In fact, my daughter could count, add, subtract, and explain fractions and negative numbers among other benchmarks that did not exist in the state standards for kindergartners. She asked me one day, “Would it be a tragedy if a person spent an entire day on the planet and didn’t learn anything new?” I had to agree. As a second grader she continues to ask when she will be given some hard work. However, I wonder how many more years she will still want hard work.
In another school that I visited, the principal had a consultant work with her staff for 2 days on “Strategies for Increasing Your School’s Test Scores.” This consultant explained to a group of concerned inner-city, teachers that they need not worry about the students who scored in the bottom quartile or about the students who scored in the top quartile, because the students in the middle had the power to improve the most. She encouraged the teachers to give these “middle” students the most attention if they wanted to improve their scores. In effect, the district and administration used taxpayer dollars to give the teachers permission not only to leave behind the lowest-scoring children, but also to ignore the highest-scoring students.
Marcia Gentry, Ph.D., associate professor of educational studies and associate director of the Gifted Education Resource Institute, Purdue University.
This is a problem we have been dealing with since my daughters started school. We have been incredibly frustrated with the lack of challenge offered through the education system. Hillary Clinton stated in a rally we attended last year that “we are living in an increasingly personalized, customized world,” and that “education is still an industrial model.” Gentry’s examples provide little hope for students who may need extended, accelerated, or enriched curricula, or for the teachers who might be willing to provide such modifications for their students. NCLB is, in effect, creating a climate of controlled learning and sending a message to administrators, teachers, students, and parents that the school’s job involves teaching to the standards–nothing more and nothing less. When students meet the standards, the schools have met their obligation to “educate.”
Another problem with NCLB is that schools are so concerned with making the grade in math and reading that they are pulling resources away from the arts, physical education and foreign languages to make it happen. But these subjects are vital to the well-rounded student. Art classes, for instance, enhance the creative and innovative thinking that drives entrepreneurs. Studies have found that art classes can help students’ performance in other subjects and could even raise test scores. For instance, dance movement can be used to help a child learn rhythm and meter in reading classes, while singing can enrich the memorization of multiplication tables.
Arizona superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne stated “You cannot run a complex, continent-wide education system through micromanagement by people living in an ivory tower at the Department of Education in Washington.” Perhaps the federal government should step back.
These standardized tests are flawed. We need to consider other factors as to the determining the success of schools, such as graduation rates, turn-over of students going to college, and level of positive community involvement from students. We need to hold the educators responsible. Get rid of teachers’ unions and offer competitive salaries to secure the best teachers.
Perhaps a more appropriate title for the act would be: “No Child Gets Ahead,” “No Child Left Untested,” “All American Children Are Above Average Act,” or “The Act to Help Children Read Gooder.”
Young children need to engage in the process of learning to think and to know how to find and use information when needed. Education involves refining capacities for judgment and evaluation. Learning is only a means to an end – which is understanding – and understanding is the ultimate value in education.