The Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed in to require school districts to address student achievement in all significant subgroups. Prior to that time, many districts were able to use the high test scores of students who have traditionally been well served by public education to mask the low test scores of students who needs were not always met. These underserved groups included students with special needs, English language learners, ethnic and racial minorities, and students living in poverty.
While clearly the focus on closing the “achievement gap” has been very beneficial and was long overdue, NCLB also imposed punitive sanctions on schools and districts that did not have all student subgroups scoring at the proficient level or above after five years. Possible sanctions included such things as firing all of the teachers and the administrators, closing schools, or converting to them to charters. Yet there was and is no evidence that these changes would, in all or even most cases, be in the best interests of the students. Instead, there would be huge disruptions even in schools that had made substantial improvements, if they had not managed to reach the target of proficient or above.
As the five year mark came closer, more and more schools found themselves targeted as “program improvement” schools or districts. The number of schools and districts nationwide with this designation became staggering. It was clear that to impose these sanctions after five years would be impossible, even if there had been evidence that it was the right thing to do for the students. Would the supposedly “failing” teachers and administrators at one school simply trade places with the “failing” teachers and administrators at another school? How would districts build on the progress made at a school when the student body scattered to other schools?
The Obama Administration recently took steps to suspend NCLB due to Congress’ failure to act on any of the proposed amendments and improvements to NCLB. Currently, states such as California are considering whether to submit alternate plans for addressing the achievement gap, which, if approved, would allow districts in that state to opt out of NCLB, providing that they comply with their state’s plan. Thus there is now broad recognition that NCLB was a statute based on a single great idea, encompassed in its name – No Child Left Behind. However, to truly address the needs of all students, a different regulatory process is required.
Next week: No Child Left Behind – Sonoma Style. Stay tuned.