No Child Left Behind needs to refocus priorities
By C. D Clawson
October 16, 2006 | America's teachers face many challenges
in their profession. In their hands lies the future
not only of a generation, but also that of a nation.
These men and women overcome incredible obstacles on
a daily basis: learning disabilities, helping students
to learn English as a second language, and preparing
our children to make the toughest decisions of their
Valley teachers face yet another trial in education
on both the local and national levels: the federal No
Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This legislation, promoted
by the Bush administration and passed by Congress in
2001, was provided as an answer to struggling students,
especially minority and lower-income students, when
in fact NCLB was actually passed at their cost as well
as the cost of teachers and taxpayers.
A 2003 Gallup poll showed that three-fourths of Americans
did not know enough about the act to form an opinion
on the matter. Although knowledge of NCLB has increased
slightly it is necessary to understand its effects upon
us and our children. The act emphasizes accountability
of students, teachers, and administrators.
NCLB's main goal: that all students have adequate
language arts and math skills by the year 2014 regardless
of race, disability, or household income. Annual yearly
progress (AYP) is measured through standardized testing
and evaluated against a set of goals developed in order
to reach this overall objective.
Yet there is one problem: this goal is not realistic.
NCLB has good intentions, but in now creating new problems
in the education world. Further refinement or new legislation
is necessary so that our nation's children, especially
minorities, are not left behind.
Schools, locally and nationally, have accomplished
AYP for the most part; however, many are passing only
by slim margins. A pattern is emerging. In the 2005-06
school year, 18 percent of Utah schools failed to meet
AYP as compared to 13 percent in the 2004-05 school
year. Education professionals predict that most schools
will soon reach a breaking point at which they can no
longer keep up with the projected AYP goals.
Surprisingly, schools that do not achieve AYP are
faced with the possibility of losing resources
rather than gaining them. Among these schools is Caches
County's Mountain Crest High School, which now faces
the possibility of losing funding, having failed to
meet AYP for three years in a row. Schools succeeding
to meet AYP are rewarded -- schools which already have
Funding based upon these requirements will inevitably
result in fewer resources and a tumbling quality of
education in our public schools. How can higher performance
be expected of a school with fewer resources? Schools
facing problems with meeting AYP should receive extra
support to be truly effective.
Local schools face other challenges to reach AYP.
NCLB seeks the progress of minority, disabled, and lower-income
students and requires that schools meet AYP for each
of these groups. Should a single group fail to meet
the standard, the entire school fails. These requirements
have good intentions, but again, are completely unrealistic,
and oftentimes place bureaucracy over the students'
To meet yearly progress requirements, all immigrant
and minority students as well as students with special
needs must have adequate math and language arts skills
by the year 2014. These too are near impossible standards.
Disabled students, including those with special needs,
are also tested and expected to meet AYP. Teachers are
working especially hard integrating students with special
needs varying from autism to Down syndrome. Special
education students attending Amelia Earhart Elementary
in Provo did not test well in 2005, and as a result
of AYP standards the school failed.
Recent federal provisions for disabled students allowing
alternative testing and modified achievement standards
are provided for. However, disabled students are required
to fail tests two years in a row before even being considered
for alternative testing ad modified achievement standards.
Such policies have adverse effects on students and their
Considerations should be made to ensure accommodations
for each student based upon his or her needs. NCLB also
aims to bridge the "achievement gap," a gap in math
and reading skills existing between minority groups
and non-minority groups. Utah's growing minority population
poses a real challenge to Utah's teachers. Lately teachers
have bolstered their efforts to help prepare minority
students for these tests. However, testing for students
with difficulties in English has not been adapted nor
implemented in most states, including Utah. NCLB provides
for students who speak another language have the option
to be tested in their primary language. Again, students'
individual needs should always come first.
NCLB presents problems not only for Utah's teachers
and students, but also for Utah's taxpayers and legislators.
Many consider the federal act an intrusion on states'
rights. NCLB is what is known as an unfunded mandate.
When passed in 2001, NCLB demanded more resources, higher
standards, and standardized testing; however, it allocated
almost no necessary funding to implement and sustain
these changes. By doing so, the state of Utah and its
taxpayers were left to pay for these costly changes.
In early 2005, a controversial bill was passed stating
that "unless and until" additional funds are provided,
Utah should continue with its own "proven system." Weeks
later, on May 3, 2005, Gov. Jon Huntsman signed into
law a bill reconsidering the extent of some of NCLB's
national standards allowing Utah's school districts
to ignore certain provisions of the law in favor of
their own emphases.
It is necessary that legislators in Washington review
the progress of NCLB. Certain aspects of NCLB need to
be refined in order to become a thriving and effective
system benefiting students, teachers, and administrators
across the nation. Struggling schools should not be
faced with the threat of losing funding because of unmet
projections. It is essential that changes be made to
individually accommodate students including those with
disabilities and with difficulties in English. All of
these changes are necessary so that teachers can continue
to have that life-changing impact on students' lives.