I have been bashing No Child Left Behind pretty much nonstop for the last 3 years. Most educators hate it with a flamey white hot passion. NCLB has done some very bad things for education, teaching and students. I will return to my regularly scheduled NCLB bashing right after this little break.
So what are some good things that have happened since the passage of NCLB? Let me list them….
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Okay, seriously, there are a couple of things that I would consider improvements under NCLB.
First, because of the new emphasis on a standards-based curriculum, schools seem a bit more streamlined in their mission and focus. By that, I mean in the past schools seemed a bit lost in their mission and seemed focused on mitigating various social ills and inequalities. The mission was so diffused that they couldn’t do anything right. Schools are still expected to accomplish more things, but now that emphasis is codified within state standards. This does have some very real consequences within special education, especially the goals and objectives, but that is an entirely different post.
Another benefit that I am going to have to allow is the fact that many students within “the golden band” have benefitted. That is, those students who were just below the line in proficiency. In fact, we have seen some students who were further behind catch up faster than expected within this year’s 9th grade class. Every 9th grader with a mild disability is in a regular class, and most of those classes are co-taught. This is good for the co-teaching even though co-teaching is an expensive proposition. This is the one big area where funding could do a lot of good.
Within my own class, this focus on academics has pretty much taken me off the hook for a lot of the stuff we used to have to do. Technically, as a teacher, this is a positive thing. As a parent, this would not be a very good thing. However, remember the focus is on the state standards. We can not justify spending time and money on things that are not focused on the standards. Communication has become a more critical area and as we try to get our students to respond and adaptive technology has been stressed more. Schools could use more monetary help in this area, too. Specific grants towards adaptive technology research as well as developing more open source solutions would benefit schools and parents who are all under budget restrictions. But in the meantime, toileting, feeding and social skills are fading from the table because they are not standards-based. The school’s mission is to deliver the state-mandated curriculum, and since NCLB trumps IDEA, that is where teachers are going to be spending most of their time.
I have had to develop my sense of humor, and in that respect NCLB has enriched me. I sit with my little groups studying American literature, algebra, geometry and all manner of social studies and science. The few brave teachers who darken my door walk in, look and then shake their heads in amazement before walking out. I am taking thousands of photos of us doing this stuff, and it is pretty crazy. I manage to bring things down to their level but am thinking about simply abandoning all the prerequisites and just get pictures of them doing some calculus, Latin and AP economics along with some physics. Why not?
I’ve had to stretch my concept of “teaching” and “learning” in order to make the curriculum fit with my kids. Again, a wry sense of humor does not hurt, because if you take any of this too seriously, it will depress you beyond words. My creativity has been tested and over time I think I’m getting more clever about how to work the system and have some fun with it at the same time.
As you can see, many of the “good” things are rather mixed and half of them are as personal benefits that may or may not have anything to do with student achievement. “Student achievement” is more than simply one test score, and I’ve been challenged this year with finding creative ways to measure and track it unlike the federal government who has no interest in creativity.