Education Secretary Arne Duncan launched his ‘NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Listening and Learning Tour: A conversation About Education Reform’ in May 2009 and gained input from parents, teachers, students and others about the NCLB Act.’
This information is now proving useful, as the anniversary of NCLB passed in January, and President Barack Obama’s administration and congressional leaders are’renewing debates on the future of the legislation and what direction it should take.
These leaders should scrap the unpopular and often criticized standardized testing required by NCLB, which in Florida is combined with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
For years, Florida students have taken the FCAT to determine their own success, their school’s and what consequences should follow.
If a school receives negative results two years straight, students get the option of transferring to another public school in their’district. After three years, schools must provide tutors. Districts must intervene and replace staff or change curriculum after four years. And in five years, the school is identified for restructuring, which could include a state takeover or conversion to a charter school.
These actions don’t address abstract reasons for failing schools, such as students’ difficulties at home, self-defeating attitudes, language difficulties and, most importantly, the practice of using property tax as a form of school funding.
Schools surrounded by apartment complexes with’low-income families will provide only a fraction of the revenue for their school as upper-middle-class neighborhoods that pay much more in taxes.
Transferring students raises more issues, as the brightest are the first to leave, making the failing school’s situation worse.
Many students, teachers, parents, administrators and others have loudly complained about a number of problems created by the FCAT and its ineffectiveness.
Critics argue that since teachers’ job security is dependent upon the outcome of the FCAT, they will be inclined to spend a disproportionate amount of time on test preparation, making the test less a measure of general aptitude and more’preparation.
‘In school districts where’teachers are evaluated based on their students’ scores on a single test, some teachers might cross the line in ‘assisting’ their students to improve their performance,’ Batya Elbaum, associate chairwoman of the Teaching and Learning Department at the University of Miami, said to the Sun Sentinel. ‘In some cases, teachers might actually believe that this ‘assistance’ results in a more accurate demonstration of the students’ true level of knowledge and skill.’
A 2008 study by the’Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development placed the U.S. 18th among’36 nations examined. South Korea was first with 93 percent of high school students graduating on time, while only 75 percent of U.S. students earn diplomas.
Any meaningful and broad changes to the U.S. educational system, FCAT and NCLB will require a new approach. But listening to teachers, students and parents should certainly be the first step.
Justin Rivera is a senior majoring in history.