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No Child Left Behind needs second look, changes

As far as education is concerned, there is hardly any slogan heard more often than “No Child Left Behind” during the last election cycle. A congressional report, though, concluded that the program is hampering individuals more than helping them and may even be unconstitutional. It is time to closely re-evaluate the program.

NCLB is based on the commendable premise of giving every student the same chances. But in a society based on individual freedoms, it is hard to see why a program such as NCLB is seen as the best way to achieve this goal.

It is unrealistic to expect that all students have the same needs, yet NCLB is entirely based on the presumption that they do.

The program fails to help students that may require additional assistance due to learning disabilities or other factors. At the same it also doesn’t support those that are exceeding expectations.

By standardizing tests, government officials, as well as parents, can easily gauge how well a school is doing. But the downsides of such testing are so overwhelming that the tradeoff is hardly acceptable.

If a school performs badly, funding is cut. The goal is to encourage schools not to fail expectations. But the harsh reality is that once a school is failing, it becomes harder for the school to succeed, as it has even less funding available than before. While “bad” schools are all but abandoned, “good” schools receive proportionally more funding. This creates an elitist education system rather than leveling the playing field as intended.

On top of this, the program is not receiving the funding President George W. Bush guaranteed. While the federal budget is not finalized yet, it is clear the program’s funding will be cut significantly. What was meant to help individual school districts is now an unfunded mandate, leaving the burden of financing the program on the states rather than the federal government. While Bush is touting the initative, at the same time he is proposing cuts to its funding, leaving local governors — including his own brother, Jeb Bush — struggling to come up with the money.

The added bureaucracy also inflates the federal government instead of downsizing it as President Bush intended.

NCLB is more akin to socialist-era five-year plans than an honest attempt at giving each student the best education based on individual needs. Similar to the planning in Soviet Russia, it assumes to know everything in advance rather than tailoring to individual needs. Based on history alone this does not seem a good path to follow.

The initiative is not up for re-authorization by Congress until 2007. Until then, millions of high school students will be taught based on its guidelines. While NCLB’s intentions are good, it’s time to evaluate whether they have been achieved. It must be amended, changed or abandoned. They way it stands now it is failing to help students attain the goals it sets.