The White House released a report yesterday "Giving Every Child a Fair Shot" that proposes replacing what the White House calls the "onerous, one-size-fits-all approach of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with a more flexible, locally focused approach.
No Child Left Behind was the 2001 compromise between Democrats led by Sen. Ted Kennedy, House Republicans led by Rep. John Boehner, and President George W. Bush. For states to receive federal funding, students had to continuously improve on standardized tests in specific grade levels. Schools that failed to improve their test scores for two consecutive years had to develop improvement plans. Students could transfer to other better performing schools. Teachers and administrators could, potentially, lose their jobs. NCLB made no allowances for struggling students. If the child failed the standardized test, the whole school failed the test.
While the initial intent may have been noble, NCLB became a straitjacket that states began fighting to escape. Kentucky was one of the states to have the requirements of the law eased.
Kentucky is cited in the report as an example of what a state can do to improve student performance.
"For example, Kentucky was among the first states to adopt college- and career-ready standards. It was also among the first to receive flexibility from the onerous, one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB in exchange for state-led reforms that raised expectations for every student and targeted resources to better support locally designed interventions in its lowest-performing schools. Kentucky is seeing results. Its graduation rate has increased in recent years to 87.5% - above the national average. And the percentage of high school graduates demonstrating success on the state's measures for readiness in college and careers has nearly doubled."
While the hard work has begun, the WH report cites some dismaying statistics. Not everyone is sharing improved schools:
• Only four out of ten students attending the lowest-performing under-resourced high schools graduate on time, compared to an 87% graduation rate at all other high schools.
• Between students in the nation's lowest-performing 5% of elementary and middle schools and their peers in all other schools, there is a 31 percentage point gap in reaching grade-level proficiency in reading, and a 36 percentage point gap in math - in these lowest-performing schools, approximately two-thirds of students do not meet grade level standards.
• Nationwide, black and Hispanic fourth-graders are only half as likely as white students to be on grade level in math.
The President's vision of a newly designed education law to replace No Child Left Behind includes more support for teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators. The Obama Administration supports better information, recognition and resources for educators. It further wants to get the best teachers working with the neediest students.
The replacement act, if passed, will encourage states to allow a balanced curriculum which includes art, music, history, foreign languages, physical education, financial literacy and after school enrichment. No Child Left Behind has had the unintended consequence of forcing teachers to teach to the test. Schools could not risk emphasizing untested subjects. Passing the achievement tests has become a matter of educational survival.
The new act wasn't to help states reduce testing. Reversing the tide of state mandated testing is a change of direction. The report has as a goal -
"Working with states to reduce unnecessary testing to make sure teachers and students have maximum time for learning and to place sensible limits on testing, following the lead of states like New York, which limits the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing to no greater than 2% of total classroom time. This also means helping states and localities rigorously review their tests and eliminate those which are outdated, repetitive, low-quality, or unnecessary."
How to achieve this change of direction? It will take resources. In order for the new educational plan to succeed, the law will provide "significant incentives and support for states, school districts and nonprofit organizations with new ideas and then identify and expand what's working."
The report concludes that "the President wants to replace NCLB with a new law that addresses the overuse of standardized tests, raises expectations for all students and schools, and gives every kid a fair shot at success. Federal resources must be directed toward what works and toward those communities and students that need them most. We cannot afford to ignore our lowest-performing 5% of schools, our schools where subgroups of students are not making progress year after year, and our high schools where far too many students do not earn a diploma."