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Volume I, Number 5, May, 2003

Why "No Child Left Behind" Will Fail Our Children

A FairTest Position Statement on NCLB

Note: This position statement is reprinted here with permission from FairTest

"No Child Left Behind," the name of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, describes a worthy goal for our nation. Tragically, the legislation will exacerbate, not solve, the real problems that cause many children to be left behind.

• The gauge of student progress in most states will be reduced to reading and math test scores. Many schools will narrow instruction to what is tested. Education will be damaged, especially in low-income and minority schools, as students are coached to pass a test rather than learning a rich curriculum to prepare them for life in the 21st century.

• Most schools will fail to meet the unrealistic demands imposed by the law's "adequate yearly progress" provision. Virtually no schools serving low-income children will clear the arbitrary hurdles. Many successful schools will be declared "failing" and forced to drop what works for them.

• Sanctions intended to force school improvement will do the opposite. They will pit parent against teacher, parent against parent, and school against school. They take funding away from all students to be used by relatively few students. The lawâs ultimate sanctionsöprivatizing school management, firing staff, state takeovers, and similar measuresöhave no proven record of success.

• The federal government has failed to adequately fund the law. Most states are now cutting budgets to the bone, watching their education resources dwindle just as they are hit with the demands of the law. Neither federal nor state governments are addressing the deepening poverty that makes it difficult for so many children to learn.

What Would Really Help Children?

The federal law should be transformed from one that uses punishments to control schools to one that supports teachers and students; from one that relies primarily on standardized tests to one that encourages high-quality assessments. Elected representatives should listen to educators and parents to determine the real needs of schools. Congress should work with the states to ensure that all schools are adequately funded and that all children have adequate food, housing, medical care, and other basic human needs to enable their success in school.

In the short term, Congress should amend the law to stop the destructive inflexibility of the "adequate yearly progress" provisions and eliminate the requirement for states to annually assess all students in grades 3 to 8 in reading and math. The amount of required testing should be reduced and the draconian penalties removed. Congress must appropriate the full amount authorized for Title I of ESEA without cutting overall ESEA appropriations.

FairTest also calls for a helpful accountability system that would emphasize local, classroom-based student assessment information combined with limited standardized testing, as is being developed in Maine and Nebraska. Each school would report its progress and problems to its own community and discuss with the community how to improve the schools. Each school would also produce an opportunity-to-learn index, including such factors as per-pupil funding, class size, number of books in libraries, teacher qualifications, and school climate and satisfaction surveys. Where schools have adequate resources but fail to provide a good education, the district or state should intervene with methods shown to succeed.

Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Executive Director
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4810 fax 617-497-2224

What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.