On Friday afternoon, my wife called out to me “Hey! You have to see this!”
And there on the news was a story about the waivers offered by our beloved national education secretary that would allow states to escape many of the more ornerous NCLB provisions. Which is to say, almost all of them. And the headline read “No Child Left Behind Ends.”
Could it be true? Could it REALLY be true? To me, this would be the educational equivalent of the the falling of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps…just perhaps..we might see some real reform in education. Meaningful reform. Something besides the test scores.
Georgia is a state that has already delivered its waiver application. Oddly enough, it was delivered by one of the authors of the original NCLB law, Johnny Isakson. Remember him? Basically, congress has not done its job in doing anything to fix this law simply because it is unfix-able. It never was and it never will be.
Isakson was one of the original authors of No Child Left Behind. But last week the Georgia Republican sponsored a bill with other GOP lawmakers to scrap the adequate yearly progress requirement. No Child Left Behind requires that all students be “proficient” in math and science by 2014. Those benchmarks are widely considered to be unrealistic.
Isakson said that after a decade of implementation the law “has served its purpose in raising expectations and standards.””We knew when we wrote No Child Left Behind that if it worked, we would reach this point where schools would not be able to continue to meet AYP (adequate yearly progress) because the bar is set higher and higher each year for schools,” he said.
According to Isakson, they knew when they wrote the law, that schools would eventually all fail. The law was PROGRAMMED to fail! These are the people we send to Washington and this is what drinking that water and breathing that air does to people. And it illustrates perfectly why the congress has no business dictating federal education standards. The law was destined for bankruptcy even while it was being written and the lawmakers who wrote it KNEW it!
But this is not the end of NCLB. It is not the end of testing. It is not the end of the alternate assessment that has plagued those teachers of students with multiple and severe disabilities. There is still Race To The Top, which Georgia just received a year ago. And those who are most saddled by a law that never had them in mind when it was written, will be the last to realize the benefits of this waiver. That is because the waiver was also not written with these students in mind. But hopefully what eventually trickles down will be no worse than what is already in place.
I am somewhat hopeful that the career and work-ready provisions might at least help those students who could be employable with enough and the right kind of training, when they would otherwise stand no chance of getting into a college. And yes, there are a large number of students where this is true; they will not be able to get into a college and they have no desire to do so. But at least by fostering a culture of productivity and relevant skill-based training, it might prevent them from dropping out and actually give them an edge in life. At the present time, the work skills of a college drop-out and a high school drop-out are almost exactly the same due to vocational funding and programs being cut and minimized in order to switch the focus to collage-ready. And this focus has been particularly hard-felt for students with disabilities.
NCLB has been little more than an expensive and nightmarish public awareness campaign. According to Isakson, they wanted to put a spotlight on poor performing schools and poor performing groups of students by raising expectations and raising standards. But the law was outdated the day it was signed, as the world economy has been globalized. We need innovation, creativity, enthusiasm for learning, entrepreneurship and exploration. And these were exactly the things that NCLB has succeeded in killing with the standardized test-taking culture that saw the diminishing or elimination of the arts in education. While the rest of the world has been learning how to solve problems and create, our kids have been learning how to fill in bubbles.