It is a well documented fact that African American students in particular generally fare below par in maths and science subjects. Similarly, those students from low-income families generally perform poorly in Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs). As per the 2004 Census Bureau, close to 14 million children below age 18 lived in conditions of poverty, which translates to 18 percent child poverty rate across the country. And the phenomenon of globalisation has put unreasonable pressure on students and teachers so that it has become imperative for the former to acquire skills that make them competitive in the global marketplace. During the three decades after the Second World War, it was possible for an American citizen to earn reasonable income with just a high-school certificate. But in today’s economic environment, there is no guarantee of finding a job even with a college degree. The average hourly wages of Americans with different educational attainments shows how stark this reality is. For example, “in 1979 graduates of a four-year college earned 46 percent more than high school graduates earned on average. By 2005 that gap had widened to 74 percent. During that same period the average inflation-adjusted earnings of high school dropouts fell 16 percent”. (Murnane, 2007) Today, “even manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs require knowledge of algebra, as well as sophisticated reading comprehension and problem-solving skills. In this new environment, schools are being asked to provide all students an education once enjoyed by only a select few”. (Jacob, 2007) Both public school teachers and their students (in both urban and rural districts) are finding it difficult to cope with this heightened pressure. The NCLB Act has only exacerbated this pressure and does not alleviate it.
Another issue with NCLB is with regard to funding. Recently, the Department of Education initiated the Teacher Incentive Fund with a budget of $100 million which would be disbursed to teachers on a pay-for-performance criterion. While many city districts successfully implemented this program there were disparities in the distribution between schools that predominantly tutored white children when compared to schools that had a higher percentage of minorities. (Sanders, 2008)
Right from the date of enactment of NCLB in 2001, school teachers across the country have had reservations about its consequences. An area that concerned most of them is the effect NCLB would have in raising education standards of disadvantaged children and its ability to ensure that such students have a qualified and experienced teacher to take charge. Based on opinion polls and surveys conducted on public school teachers in cities across the country, we can gauge a sense of disappointment in the way NCLB had worked so far. For example, many teachers feel that the kind of focus given to literacy and math skills is not extended to other subjects. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the way NCLB has derailed reform initiatives that were showing positive outcomes in the years prior to 2001. Teachers also identified funding and accountability measures as “unfair and inaccurate ways of determining student and school performance.” (McElroy, 2005). The way in which Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) of schools is measured has also not gone down well with teachers. They contend that
“the central provision of the law, the adequate yearly progress (AYP) measure, doesn’t necessarily give credit for progress. Many teachers report feeling that, on the basis of AYP, their schools have been wrongly identified as “failing.” Many schools that have made commendable progress have been targeted for NCLB’s escalating sanctions because some or most of their students started further behind and did not reach the law’s arbitrary benchmark. Ineffective schools should be identified, but right now there is reason to believe that many so-called failing schools are being identified for statistical rather than educational reasons.” (McElroy, 2005)
School teachers in both rural and urban America feel that the law will actually reduce student achievement in the case of minorities. This is so because under the provision of the NCLB, a regular school that does not satisfy AYP requirements is converted to a charter school. The lesser qualification standards for teachers in charter schools means that the students (who are predominantly from low socio-economic backgrounds) also receive a sub-standard education. These charter schools apply the same low standards for hiring Supplemental Service Providers (SSPs). African American and Hispanic children are the most affected by these changes to the law, as they seldom get the services of ‘highly qualified’ teachers. Under the NCLB, most of the teachers who fit the ‘highly qualified’ tag will gravitate toward ‘easiest to educate’ children (usually middle class white children), while those in dire need of quality education get left behind.