Fourteen years ago, No Child Left Behind was rolled out with the promise that all the nation’s children would meet benchmarks in English and math by 2012.
In case you’re wondering, that never happened.
While NCLB failed, that doesn’t mean national standards will never work. The Every Child Achieves and Student Success acts making their way through Congress look to supplant NCLB as the nation’s blueprint to educational success, and they show promise.
Under the Every Child Achieves Act, which passed the U.S. Senate 81-17 last week, states will be able to develop their own assessment standards and decide how to include mandated tests for accountability. The annual testing requirements of NCLB will remain, but school districts won’t be measured by those results alone. Graduation rates, state performance tests and other measures determined at the state level will be factored in.
Every Child Achieves would give Alaskans a voice in how we measure academic success, while maintaining the most important part of NCLB — that we are measuring success. Standardized testing is a necessary tool to gauge progress, but it can’t be the only measuring stick. As much as NCLB raised the bar in some school districts, it watered down achievement in others, where teaching to the test became the norm.
NCLB was a step, but it wasn’t the final step. It forced many states and school districts to measure the quality of their students’ education, and those that failed to meet federal standards faced sanctions. But NCLB has outlived its worth and has needed an update for some time (it expired in 2007). That’s why Alaska sought a waiver in 2013 after half its schools scored below appropriate benchmarks, and why another three-year waiver was recently granted.
The federal government has had its try with a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, and even though there have been many successes since 2003, the first year NCLB was in place, states have lost the ability to implement standards that meet their geographical and cultural uniqueness. The problem with that approach is apparent in Alaska, where a K-12 school can have fewer than 20 children, and English won’t necessarily be their first language.
When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in 1965, its goal was to address education inequality in the U.S. That act eventually morphed into NCLB, which created inequalities of its own, evidenced by the fact Alaska and six other states are now exempted from it.
Just as kids graduate from one grade to the next, it’s time to leave behind No Child Left Behind.
— Juneau Empire,