NCLB's Downward Spiral--Letter from a Teacher
Tom DiFiglio, an Advanced Placement Psychology teacher at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., has sent me many smart messages over the years. His email today made clear how upset he was at recent events at his school, because of the distorted effects of the No Child Left Behind Law as it nears its 2014 goals. I like most of NCLB, but not that 2014 deadline. Here is Tom's email to me, and then some of the letter he sent to his school colleagues:
Hi Jay---As open as I have been to every reform, as open as I have been with my AP classes, as successful as I have been, I have never had 100% of my students pass the standardized test. Yet that is exactly what NCLB is going to require, 100% of all students must be “proficient” by the year 2014. And we just learned that Spanish River High, an A-rated school for years under the Florida school rating system, is about to undergo state intervention if we do not make our AYP this year, adequate yearly progress, on our way to 100% proficiency by 2014. As I have discovered in my missive below, virtually every school will eventually fail to make AYP and be deemed a failure by NCLB. This bill is deeply flawed. It is time for a national debate. I have read many sources over the last few days to come up with this letter to my colleagues:
On January 8, 2002, President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, a 1,100 page bipartisan overhaul of the largest federal education program. Originally launched in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NCLB became the latest revision and newest name for ESEA. ESEA’s original purpose was to provide extra money for schools educating low-income students. The Bush version ordered schools to meet extremely difficult requirements for student test scores or face escalating punishment if they expected to continue to receive federal dollars.
So far only the state of Utah has challenged the mandates of NCLB and has ordered its schools to ignore NCLB even if it means a cessation of federal funds. They claim that NCLB itself is an unfunded mandate that is not worth financing. Slowly but surely NCLB has acquired such a bad reputation that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is looking for a new name. He actually has a website designed to receive suggestions for renaming NCLB.
Although this may seem trivial, this attention to NCLB is a good thing. NCLB is in dire need of revision but no one wants to criticize a law that wants all children to succeed. No one wants to leave any children behind. But if NCLB is not revised soon, almost every school in the country will fail sometime in the next five years. Why? Because the passing grade for schools keeps rising every year. In fact, in the next five years the bar rises faster and faster.
Herein lies the problem. The conceptual basis of NCLB is deeply flawed. The concept of I.Q. is real. It has not been obviated, yet NCLB ignores the inevitable and natural variation amongst individuals. Therefore the main NCLB goal, Proficiency for All, becomes an oxymoron when the standards set for students are said to be both challenging and achievable. No goal or standard can, simultaneously, be both challenging and achievable by all students across the entire spectrum. A standard can either be a minimal standard, which presents little or no challenge to average and advanced students, or it can be a challenging standard which is unachievable by many below-average students. No single standard can serve both purposes. The goal of having every student at or above average by 2014 also becomes an oxymoron as we would then render the meaning of average moot.
.....But the education of our children is no joke and the labels being attached to schools are real and damaging. It is time to revise NCLB into a serious and meaningful law that is both realistic and pragmatic.
| September 30, 2009; 3:25 PM ET
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