NCLB – No Child Left Behind, What it is… and isn’t!!!

After several years now of the federal focus of NCLB – No Child Left Behind, let’s take a moment to reflect on how well this program has done to improve student achievement nationwide.  Several hundred billion dollars of federal monies over the past several years has produced results that must rank right up there with the top 10 most wasteful government programs of the decade, perhaps even the century.  How can a program that is so well funded end up with nationwide numbers that show students graduating from secondary education with less than an eighth-grade proficiency in reading and mathmatics?

Even in our own state, Arizona has managed to eek out a 26% proficiency in reading at an 8th-grade level.  This means that 74% of our secondary students state-wide can’t read at the legal minimum requirements in order to graduate.  With a state budget of $5.5 Billion and matching funds through various programs that puts our state-wide education spending up around $11 Billion, why can’t a much larger percentage of our children read? 

In Gilbert Public Schools, these averages are supposedly higher… and let’s hope so.  Most recent figures are not in yet for GPS, but we have to hope that even with GPS doing twice as good as the state average, public schools are failing to teach proficiency to close to 50% of our students.  One source found at Education.com reports the following statistics among many others:

Arizona Student and Teacher Statistics

  • Students by Ethnicity
  • White 44%   Hispanic 41%   Black 6%   American Indian/Alaskan Native 5%   Asian/Pacific Islander 3%  

  • Students by Gender
  • Male 51%   Female 49%  

  • Student Economic Level
  • 47% Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch

  • Student Subgroups
  • 11% Limited English Proficient (LEP)

  • Student-Teacher Ratio
  • 20 Students per Full-Time Teacher

  • Teacher Degree
  • 44% Percentage of Teachers with at least a Master’s Degree

  • Teacher Experience
  • 14% Percentage of Teachers with 20+ Years Experience 33% Percentage of Teachers with 0-4 Years Experience 26% Percentage of Teachers with 5-9 Years Experience 27% Percentage of Teachers with 10-19 Years Experience

    As for Test scores each grade is recorded on the website.  But let’s take a look at just a few.  Take 4th, & 8th grades for example to see how our students are CURRENTLY doing.  These results are for Arizona AIMS test results as well as Terra Nova/SAT 9 results for 2010.  This would be for the school year ending 2010 or rather, the 2009/2010 school year.  Test results statistics come from the Arizona Department of Education, NCES.
    4th Grade – AIMS (those who meet or exceed standards), Math-63%, Reading 71%, Science 61%  —  Terra Nova National Percentile score- Math 61, Reading 55
    8th Grade – AIMS(those who meet or exceed standards), Math-56%, Reading 73%, Science 58% —  Terra Nova National Percentile score- Math 63, Reading 65
    Terra Nova scores do NOT indicate the Percent Correct.  Instead, the National Percentile scores start at 50.  Meaning, that half of the national average scored above, and half scored below.  Thus a score of say 63 in Math for our 8th graders means that 8th graders in Arizona are scoring higher on average than 63% of the norm.  There are several types of scores with Terra Nova tests.  It’s important to refer to the correct type of score in order to represent correctly the overall performance of student achievement on an individual level as well as a group.

What does this have to do with NCLB – No Child Left Behind???  The point is… after nearly a decade of hundreds of billions of federal dollars in NEW funding, our education system is really no better off than it was the previous decade, or it’s worse.  So what is the fix then?  Well, it’s certainly NOT funding.  We’ve seen by comparision those areas that offer school choice and those that don’t.  School choice through vouchers, charter schools, open enrollment, and so on have brought a great deal of improvement, but public district schools still fall far short of reasonable acceptance.  What is to be done?

 A number of potential changes can and should be made.  Arizona has already begun to implement many of these ideas from a legislative aspect.  It is likely that 2011 and 2012 will see additional legislation to improve education as a whole.  Some specific areas for improvement would include but not be limited to: 

  1. Zero-based budgeting – It seems that every time we turn around there’s a new program, a new department, more staff, and rarely does any new funding from tax increases actually make it into the classroom.  Start with what is most important, fund that first at an appropriate amount.  Then proceed through the priorities from first to last ‘til budgeted monies are gone.  Then live within those means.  This has the added benefit of being able to manage appropriately when there’s a budget shortfall.  Lesser priorities are cut first instead of automatically threatening to lay-off teachers.
  2. Here’s a little nugget to chew on… If our kids are so important to us and TEACHERs are the most valued resource in education, then why is they are paid so poorly on average with other certified employees?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  We pay assistant-superintendents well over six-figure salaries who rarely enter the classroom and pay teachers $40K who work with our loved-ones most. 
  3. Tying teacher compensation to student performance is a fantastic plan.  We must place more emphasis on OUTCOMES.  Improvement comes when performance is measured, and experience has shown that the rate of improvement increases when performance is measured AND reported.  Thus, teacher compensation should be tied to student performance.  But let’s not stop there.  Administrative compensation should also be tied to teacher performance.  Any administrator that is not able to have their compensation directly tied to measurable performance metrics may become obsolete.
  4. Scrap NCLB and all other federal programs like unto it.  Pushing a student through ‘the system’ before they are ready does not ensure success.  In fact, it nearly ensures the opposite.  If we advance a student before they are developmentally ready, they will be ill prepared for the next step, falling farther and farther behind.  Increases in behavioral issues may be attributed to NCLB unintended consequences as children become disassociated, bored, and frustrated because they no longer are able to keep up.  Likewise, at the other end of the spectrum, students are held back because of the effort spent by the instructor to constantly cater to the needs of the slower third.  The more efforts required on the part of the instructor to bring those lagging behind up with the rest of the class, the more those who would normally excel are held back.
  5. Replace NCLB and the whole pigeon-holing of students based on age with a different program that makes regular assessments of a student’s progress.  There shouldn’t be a problem with mixing ages and capabilities within a classroom.  The classroom is a learning environment and as such, those who are capable of learning the materials and following the curriculum should be able to attend regardless of age.

 As with most federal programs that try to standardize, normalize, and provide a one-size fits all solution, we find that there are simply too many variables to be considered and too many special circumstances that must be addressed.  What we end up with is an over-funded, handicapped, and defunct program that has horribly missed the target it was intended to hit.

 As an aside, there is great wisdom in returning our federal government to the constitutional bounds in which it should be kept.  Nowhere is there a provision for a federal branch of government that focuses on Education.  These rights and responsibilities are left to the states to manage.  And so it is… Arizona addresses public education in the state’s constitution.  Our state is also looked at as a model to other states in many areas of education reform.  Funding & school choice options within our state are being implemented in many other states.  Arizona is learning from other states as well on how to do things different.  Accountability at the local school district level that has gone relatively untouched for decades has received a great deal of attention as previously mentioned.  Local control is the most beneficial way of addressing local needs.  As such, we don’t need a federal government telling us how to teach our kids at a local level, and we certainly don’t need NCLB or anything like it.

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