Don’t leave the children behind

The 5-year-old No Child Left Behind Act is relatively simple as federal laws go. School districts must test their students annually in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. And they must show improving proficiency across all demographic groups, with the perhaps-unreachable aim of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

There has been progress under the law, but benchmarks like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, fairly called the nation’s report card, show that it has been spotty and that some jurisdictions are showing compliance by dumbing down their tests.

Critics complain that the act encourages “teaching to the test” and too much concentration on reading and math to the exclusion of subjects that aren’t tested, like science, history, art, music and physical education. There’s evidence that this is so, with the non-tested subjects being scanted by about a half-hour a day.

NCLB is up for reauthorization in Congress and lawmakers, including some of the law’s original drafters, are talking about modifying it so that proficiency in math and reading would not be the sole standard of school performance. Other indicators would be allowed, like scores in other subjects, graduation rates and participation in college-preparatory and advance-placement classes.

As attractive as these indicators might sound, they would dilute the purpose of the law to where ultimately the standards become the usual educational mush. Expanding the number of indicators would make side-by-side comparisons of school districts difficult.

Testing in only the two most critical subjects has the virtue of simplicity. It seems as if major educational reforms come along every few years or so, and none of them seems to last. A child who encountered NCLB in third grade is just now entering eighth grade, still a little soon to get a fix on the law’s effectiveness.

Conservatives complain that NCLB marked an ominous intrusion of the federal government into what has been traditionally a state and local responsibility. Broadening the law to include more subjects, graduate rates and the school curriculum marks a significantly greater intrusion.

With the exception of some minor tweaking, Congress should stick with the law as is through at least another five-year cycle.


  1. Sandra Price

    I’m going to throw out something here that may be totally wrong…..One of the most popular and profitable series of books being sold are call the “Left Behind” series. These books describe the poor sad souls who are not Christians and when Jesus arrives for the “rapture” these “left behind” folks will experience the hell and damnation and suffer untold agonies. Could the term “left behind” be another fear of terrorism placed in the minds of the American people?

    Christians are the masters of fear and terror and have been the cause of mass movements bringing people together to stop the actions of ill-informed Americans.

    The academics in America are in need of improvement not testing. I do not understand why assigned reading and book reports are no longer part of the curriculum. Has the television turned off the reading of books? I saw it start in my home and removed the T.V.

    It is not up to the White House to direct the schools; it is up to the parents to demand more from their own kids and the schools. We are talking about the most important years in a child’s life. Nothing can replace the love of learning and the curiosity about what surrounds their lives.

  2. erika morgan

    I’m a homework helper expeditor, so I am familiar with the EVERY CHILD LEFT BEHIND LAW and what is happening to education since my high-school years in the late sixties. As a scientist also, what I see is, that this test is attempting to measure two things at once; efficacy in teaching generally and individual achievement by particular students. To test efficacy, you grade scale a series of questions about material covered to check on understanding gained by exposure to material and teaching methods. These test questions are based on teaching/learning goals, thus you can use these results to find more efficacious programs and teachers or at least the combination of the two. To test individual achievement you ask questions which require the student to use what they have learned and apply this knowledge to a new situation or different circumstances. This is the step in the learning ladder where you are giving the pre-test before introducing the next lesson. How well the student has incorporated the previous information determines how he does on this test and helps both student and teacher construct more meaningful lessons to follow. So the one test asks about information covered specifically, and the other asks questions about how what has been learned specifically may be useful in a new situation. What is similar about these tests is that there is a gradient of increasing complexity inherent in each of them, but one can clearly see that the way a question is asked is completely different. In the first case you ask for a fact, in the second you remind of fact or facts and ask for educated conjecture. If there is a solid wall between the use of two different tests, to test two different things, the problems go away, that States have been trying to use the tests interchangeably is what is interfering with the learning/teaching and has turned what needs to be a partnership into a process thus destroying our educational system.

  3. Jellicoe

    It was a sad day, indeed, when this country’s elite bought into the idea that teaching to a test, ANY test, makes educational sense. If your salary, or perhaps even your job, can depend upon how well your students do on a test, that is some powerful motivation to forget everything you ever learned about education and GET WITH THE PROGRAM. It’s hard to imagine how one could actually further dumb down American education, but leave it to the decider (the guy who actually said at a Yale commencement that he was living proof that a Cee average is OK) to find a way. Kill the stupid and destructive law, or admit that our society is not capable of providing a real education to its children.

  4. Jeffrey B.

    “Leave All Children Behind”

    As my wife is a teacher, it has become obvious to us that “No Child Left Behind” is an abyssmal failure. But what else would one expect from the “brain” of George ‘Waldo’ Bush? Programs of these types are generally geared towards children of lower income families and illegals, which leaves the rest of our kids in the dust. Teachers now spend more time preparing students for tests than they do actually TEACHING.

    Throw money at the problem and throw government regulation at the problem – and pretty soon – our kids are dumber than those of the rest of the world. Another government program gone awry.

    For such an advanced culture – why are we having to import doctors, teachers and engineers from places like India and Pakistan? Why are we as a nation continually far below the education standards of nations such as these, in addition to Japan and China?

    If each state would just turn away the government funds for these programs – education can once more be dealt with at the state and local levels – and at home – where it belongs.

    Woe to Horace Mann and John Dewey!