Statistics pertaining to school staffing under the NCLB regime indicates the merits and deficiencies of this law. But in the case of Ohio, results are positive, as the following passage shows:
“Initial state reports on the highly qualified teacher mandate indicated wide variation, ranging from as low as 16% in Alaska and 25% in Puerto Rico to over 98% in Idaho and Wisconsin. Twenty states reported that over 90% of classrooms were taught by highly qualified teachers, but 4 states reported that less than half of classrooms met this NCLB mandate. For the 2002-03 school year, Ohio reported that 82% of its classes were taught by highly qualified teachers in all schools, and 78% in high-poverty schools.12 Scholars have noted that some of this state-by-state variation could be explained by inaccurate or incomplete data collection by states.” (Safier, 2007)
We can learn several things from the above set of statistics. Firstly, in Ohio (across levels), the urban status seems to be correlated to lower percentages of highly qualified teachers. Next, at the level of individual schools in Ohio, student performance is inversely correlated to teacher qualification. More importantly, “increasing instructional expenditures is correlated with increasing percentages of highly qualified teachers; increasing teacher salaries and staff support expenditures are not correlated with increasing percentages of highly qualified teachers” (Safier, 2007). This is important because in Ohio, public schools have incremented their budgets for staff support by twenty percentage since the implementation of NCLB, while during the same period, instructional expenses have been capped at a fixed level. (Safier, 2007) But in order to understand the full implications of NCLB on urban school districts in Ohio, researchers will have to make a more comprehensive enquiry.
Seen from a historical perspective, ever since the introduction of Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) in 1965, there have no been radical upheavals of this Act, until the enactment of NCLB in 2001. Under the NCLB, government’s role in the country’s public school system was redefined to include “(1) stronger accountability for results, (2) increased flexibility and local control, (3) expanded options for parents, and (4) emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven effective”. (Seaton, et. Al, 2007) But as critics point out now, such guiding principles are too vague and too general to be of value in catering to the needs of all sections of the student community. For example, the emphasis on annual exam outcomes has put pressure on teachers and administrators to encourage students to cram and regurgitate content in the exams. As a result, creative thinking and reflective thinking have been forsaken within the classroom atmosphere. While the emphasis on test results for schools is not unimportant, its value should be considered in the backdrop of longitudinal statistical data pertaining to urban public schools. For instance, the data suggests that the average scores for high-schoolers have not improved since the 1970s despite taxpayers spending close to 130 billion dollars on public education in this period. Teachers in urban public schools complain that conducting so many tests and exams during the academic year takes a toll on them as well as students leading some to mental anxiety and burnout. Some assert that while added focus on tests may help achieve objectives set out in the syllabus, such “content driven accountability standards leave little room for teachers to cultivate interpersonal skills that may actually help students learn”. (Seaton, et. Al, 2007)
Even the drafters of NCLB identify some urban schools as ‘hard-to-staff’. And these schools have a high proportion of African American pupils in them, making a case for NCLB’s inadequacy in correcting this aspect of American public education. Indeed, these so-called ‘hard-to-staff’ schools happen to be the least funded and poorly resourced to fulfil NCLB mandates. Despite proactive measures from administrators in these schools, their ranking and performance continues to lag behind. Already, fourteen states offer incentives for teachers to fill up vacancies in schools with high-poverty pupils. Bigger states among them, which can avail of greater resources, such as Florida, Texas and California offer bonuses to teachers who have passed the National Board examination. And a few other urban school districts have started new programs that would specially address the needs of students from low-income households: “For example, Miami-Dade County has designated its thirty-nine lowest-performing schools as a School Improvement Zone. It is offering teachers a 20 percent pay premium to take a job in one of these schools, working a longer school day and school year.”(Murnane, 2007)
All of this suggests that the NCLB Act, as it functions today is inadequate in fully addressing the needs of all schools and its pupils. In this context, the federal government could take a few steps to improve the situation, especially for low-income and minority students. According to Richard Murnane, the Congress should amend accountability standards so that the goals set for schools are reasonable. The emphasis should be laid on skills attained by students rather then scores gotten in tests. Voluntary school choice provisions can be strengthened so that students can move from inefficient schools to the ones functioning well in the same district. Congress can also think of giving more autonomy for urban school districts and also allocate more funds toward low socio-economic students. Since most African American and other racial/ethnic minority students belong to this category, “Congress should use competitive matching grants to build the capacity of schools to educate low-income children and the capacity of state departments of education to boost the performance of failing schools and districts. The grants would help develop effective programs to improve teaching and to serve students who do not fare well in conventional high school programs.” (Murnane, 2007)