On Saturday, President Obama took time out address his intents to change No Child Left Behind (including, apparently, to rename the policy).
Here’s the Good:
1. AYP is out the window. Under NCLB, schools are measured on an annual basis in terms of: drop out/graduation rate, math, and reading, across the board, and in up to several student subgroups. This is exceptionally arbitrary. Data can trend up or down in a given year, yet a school that dips too low in any one area. Further, each state used their own tests ….. some state tests were ridiculously easy. Illinois used the ACT. For a time, Mississippi had the highest pass-rate of any state. I have to think that is not an accurate assessment of education.
2. Instead of “by 2014, each student must be reading at grade level”, the Obama plan calls for “by 2020, all students must graduate ready for college or a career”. This seems more realistic. Instead of forcing kids who don’t plan on going to college, or who perhaps lack the maturity to prepare for college at 18, to be ready for college, they are given the option of preparing for a career.
3. Gone is the emphasis on “failing schools”. Many of the best schools in the nation are currently “failing schools” under NCLB. Are they really? Not by any sane definition. The Bush NCLB eventually led to every school being a “failure”, since it eventually required every student to be college ready.
4. The emphasis is on change over time, instead of rigid and arbitrary definitions. A student could enter high school reading at the 6th grade level, and over the next three years be boosted to a 10th grade level. Under the Bush NCLB, the high school is a failure (it made no difference where the kid came from). Under the Obama plan, changes like this would count as success for the high school.
5. There is an acknowledgement that education is more than reading and mathematics. Writing, a foreign language, and the arts have their place. States are given the option to test over subjects beyond reading and mathematics.
The Bad/The Uncertain:
1. Standardized testing will still be the benchmark. This is still a big problem, though it causes less damage to the schools and their students if the other provisions are in place.
2. How will the standards for college/career preparedness be measured? This is left ambiguous, and unless it is better defined, I am ill-convinced that this is wholly an improvement.
3. The lower 5% of schools in a given state are targeted for improvement, including the removal of the staff. I am not so upset about removing the staff, but before you do, make sure that they are the cause of the problem (and while there are some obvious things one might find, I am not sure how realistic it is to find these criteria at work in a school). The one good thing: if your school ends up in the bottom 5% of the state, it is hard for parents to argue that the school shouldn’t change.
Time will tell if anything will come of this.