Of all the ideological, optimistic efforts to come out of the Bush years, few have suffered more at the hands of reality than the No Child Left Behind Act.
Few could argue over the goals of this act — which is why it had broad, bipartisan support even though it was a White House creation. It called for, indeed demanded, that all children in public schools, regardless of race, economic status or special needs, be able to read and do math at grade level by 2014. There would be benchmarks along the way to determine if progress was being made. If the benchmarks were not met, schools, administrators and teachers could be (and, in some cases, were) penalized.
Problems cropped up almost immediately.
Because information was needed to evaluate student progress and achievement, standardized testing became the norm. Teachers began complaining about the instruction time lost to this effort, and administrators began complaining about the cost. When states were given flexibility in choosing which tests to use, critics warned that the variety flawed the results.
The fact that all groups of students were factored in caused some schools to fail to meet the mark because special education tests scores were low. And since each benchmark is higher than the last, more schools “fail” to reach the goal.
With the 2014 deadline not that far away, a majority of states have applied for waivers that would push the date back and give them more time.
Alabama, however, is trying something else. One week from today, the state school board will vote to ask the federal government to “freeze” the test requirements where they are.
Asking for a waiver still requires a state to lay out a formal plan for meeting the next round of benchmarks. If the benchmarks are frozen, the state will not have to spend extra time and money working on this issue.
This also would allow Alabama schools to focus on meeting existing requirements rather than face penalties for not reaching higher standards that could well be beyond the state’s reach. Of the many criticisms of NCLB, the one heard most frequently is that its goals are unrealistic. If they are — and they seem to be, judging from the number of states seeking waivers —freezing the requirements where they are would make reaching them more possible. It also would impose reason on what appears to be an unrealistic situation.
“Essentially, this buys us some time,” state schools spokesman Michael Sibley told the Mobile Press-Register. Then, he added, he hoped that “with whatever administration is in place in the fall, we’ll see some movement when it comes to No Child Left Behind.” Good luck with that.
Although both President Obama and apparent GOP nominee Mitt Romney speak in grand terms about improving education, neither has adequately addressed No Child Left Behind and the situation it has created.
It is time they did.