In addition to the above, needy and deserving schools will be provided funding on an ad hoc basis. Within one year of its proposal, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in Congress. The Act, which essentially reauthorizes ESEA, combines the Eisenhower Professional Development Program and Class Size Reduction program into a consolidated Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program that “focuses on using practices grounded in scientifically based research to prepare, train, and recruit high-quality teachers” (www.ed.gov/nclb). This new initiative was expected to give counties, states and LEAs greater flexibility in choosing their approach to meeting requisite academic outcomes. Overall, the NCLB Act was expected to revamp the ailing federal education system and in the process benefit students, parents and teachers alike. But since its inception in 2001, the results have not been promising. The rest of the essay will discuss how the NCLB Act has fared in its short history.
Performance of NCLB
Right from the beginning, the NCLB program was beset with problems. Some political commentators and educationists have complained about the NCLB Act’s lack of focus on core issues ailing the American education system. For example, the United States is by far “the most unequal educational system in the industrialized world” (Darling-Hammond, 2008). This inequality cuts across racial, ethnic, economic and geographic lines, meaning that a child’s circumstances of birth will determine to a large extent his/her academic and career prospects. This is a shame for a nation that is the economic and military superpower in a uni-polar world. The NCLB does not address this problem head on; it also lacks a clear-cut plan for meeting “the intellectual demands of education in the twenty first century”. Critics of the NCLB Act also point out how it has neglected the issue of affirmative action, also referred to as educational debt to under-privileged students, which has accumulated over the last few centuries. Renowned political analyst Linda Darling-Hammond further explains the drawbacks of the Act:
“The noble agenda (of NCLB), however, has been nearly lost in the law’s problematic details. Dubbed No Child Left Untested, No School Board Left Standing and No Child’s Behind Left, among other nicknames, the law has been protested by more than twenty states and dozens of school districts that have voted to resist specific provisions. Critics claim that the law’s focus on complicated tallies of multiple-choice-test scores has dumbed down the curriculum, fostered a “drill and kill” approach to teaching, mistakenly labeled successful schools as failing, driven teachers and middle-class students out of public schools and harmed special education students and English-language learners through inappropriate assessments and efforts to push out low-scoring students in order to boost scores”. (Darling-Hammond, 2008)
Further, one state and a country-wide teachers’ association have brought lawsuits against the Bush Administration due to the malignant effects of the NCLB. In fact, some recent studies show that some of the significant gains made in public education during the Clinton Administration have been negated by the provisions of NCLB, resulting in poorer mathematical and reading ability among students. This unimpressive performance of the new law is attributable to the flawed assumption that schools are in need of a reward/punishment system; whereas in reality what they require is a radical change in approach. Other areas in which NCLB Act has had negative consequences are:
1. Misplaced emphasis on Tests rather than student participation
2. Disincentives for Improving Learning.
3. Shrinking the depth and range of the Curriculum.
4. No incentives provided for Schools undertaking constructive reforms.
5. Depriving funds for schools that need it the most.