Devil’s Advocate: NCLB policies leave whole schools behind

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT

No Child Left Behind has left whole schools and school districts behind. Standardized tests with little to no real world applicability are being weighed more than skills that don’t have a multiple choice answer. Instead of teaching children why, we have resorted to only teaching them how.

The quickest way to solve a problem is now the only way.

Before the time of No Child Left Behind, in math classes, teachers were instructed to teach multiple ways of solving a problem. Now, every child is to be taught the same single method. Instead of solving problems, they are simply answering questions. Most troubling the similar testable results of both methods has convinced enough legislators that they are the same thing.

Most classes are geared to verbal or linguistic intelligence now instead of embracing the multiple intelligences of earlier practices. Students are told to memorize dates, vocabulary, grammar rules and the amendments in the Bill of Rights. What they are not told is how the events on those dates impact us today, ways to use those scholarly words in conversation, what the punctuation marks mean, or what the first 10 amendments guarantee for modern American citizens.

Memorization has surpassed understanding in the classroom because teachers are constantly reminded about the importance of the test scores. A school’s test scores are averaged and the school is given a ranking.

When students live in an area where their home school has low standardized test scores, their parents are often able to petition for their child to go to another school. With overcrowding, that option is only realistically available to a select few. In many low scoring districts there are magnet or specialized charter schools with extra equipment that students can get into through drawings, competitions or interviews.

Many children and parents check the mail daily, waiting for their notice to see if they have been selected for a better school further from home.

The others must enroll at the school assigned to them by address, in the district they live in. In the light of leaving no child behind, some of the act’s standards include grants given to the schools with lower scores so that they may attract and hire better teachers, the theory being that teachers choose their schools based on the promised salary. According to the Consolidated State Performance Reports of the 2006-07 school year released by the U.S. Department of Education, there were more highly qualified teachers at schools with less poverty. Even five years after the program had begun, throwing money at the low scoring schools didn’t help meet the expectations. The higher scoring, higher income schools still had the higher number of qualified teachers.

So essentially teachers with lower qualifications are making more money and not necessarily giving the students in low scoring districts much of a chance to succeed. In 2007, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released information that concluded that California 8th graders had seen little to no increase in test scores in the areas these standards were aimed at: math and reading.

Teachers resent the act, and rightfully so. They are stripped of their titles as educators and left at the front of the room with PowerPoints. Instead of teaching students how to extract information, they are left teaching how to import that information onto flashcards.

Many states have been given the option to opt out of the program, though California’s request was denied. Unlike the 34 other states that have been waived of their requirement to participate in the program, California schools will still have to depend on students’ scores on the standardized tests to receive federal funding.

The choice is between teaching memorization skills and getting paid or teaching students how to learn and losing funding. We know which side the educators of California would like to be on, but we must understand the position they are forced to take.

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