Proposed education reform could undo much of NCLB

In 2001, President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was embraced, cheered and welcomed into the law books with open arms. Six years later, politicians and teachers cheered as they watched NCLB, or Nickelbee, expire.

Now President Obama is taking a swing at education reform. His new proposal claims it can undo much of the damage NCLB left on our nation’s schools.

But can it fix all the problems our public schools have with funding and low test scores? Can this new plan really be that much better?

NCLB looked great on paper when Bush revealed it to Congress. It was going to raise standards and boost students’ esteem so they would become more confident in and out of the classroom.

Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. NCLB set test score standards so high formerly well-performing schools ended up in the failing column. Part of those less-than-stellar test scores came from the notion elementary school kids should be passed to the next grade even when they couldn’t pass the tests.

The argument holding a child back a grade could hurt his or her self-esteem allowed many kids who couldn’t perform to advance to grades where they didn’t have the basic tools – the ability to read, write, add or subtract – needed to grasp more complex concepts such as multiplication and long division. How can a child learn to carry the two and write a compound sentence when he or she can’t write his or her own name on the homework page?

Under NCLB, test scores were directly related to school funding, so when schools fell short so did their checks. Forcing a school to lay off teachers or close down simply because they couldn’t meet the lofty, almost unattainable goals set before them seems like the last thing an administration would want to do when it swore it wanted to better the education program.

While NCLB was damaging school test scores, it also made it easier for frustrated parents to pull their kids out of these failing schools and enroll them in charter schools. Call me stubborn, but throwing our hands up and walking away from a problem is the last thing we should be doing. That won’t help fix the problem; it’ll only make it worse.

Although NCLB hurt much more than it helped, it wasn’t a complete bust. Willow Run area schools, for example, were able to start up the Bright Futures after-school program to help needy kids have a free place to go where they can get homework help and have fun.

Now NCLB is behind us and Obama’s new proposal is staring Congress in the face. Legislatures are wary of any shiny new education plan that promise to fix what’s wrong with our schools, and rightly so. Everyone got burned with NCLB, so what makes this new plan so much better?

According to a New York Times article, Obama’s proposal would switch the focus away from the classroom results as a whole and judge each student’s progress individually. While this sounds easy, and some may wonder why we didn’t just do that in the first place, Republican skeptics point out organizing a way to measure every student individually and putting it into practice could take years.

More than half of the states don’t have a way to track that kind of advanced data, the article said. Plus, those states that could track their students accordingly would still need time to start collecting and organizing the data.

Some estimate it could take at least a year, if not more, to rewrite the standards, retrain teachers, rewrite tests and textbooks and start implementing the changes in the classroom. Do our struggling students have that much time to wait?

One of the main concerns teachers’ unions have with Obama’s plan is it still calls for the removal of principals and teachers from schools that would still carry the title of “truly failing.” Currently there are about 5,000 such schools under Obama’s definition of failing as opposed to more than 30,000 schools that received an F in recent years.

While I’m not an education major, I was under the impression prospective teachers have to pass a test to get their teaching certificate and take classes to improve their skills once they start teaching. That would lead me to believe a teacher has to meet a minimum standard before he or she can get in front of a classroom full of young minds.

Yet with this proposal, teachers would still be losing jobs for not meeting standards. While teachers are taught to reach every kid in a classroom, sometimes kids are difficult to reach and some kids don’t take tests well. Why punish teachers for what might be out of their control?

I agree we do need new legislation and standards to fix our public school system. But after the damage NCLB caused, I’m wary of any proposal toward education. Can a 42-page proposal really fix what six years and 600 pages of legislation did to our students and our classrooms?

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