NCLB's future

Thursday, November 2, 2006

With nearly five years of the federal No Child Left Behind Act under their belts, educators and politicians are beginning to think about reauthorizing the legislation that aims to make schools accountable and measure performance.

The practical effect of NCLB, say many educators, is that any small problem areas tend to be magnified, reflecting on entire schools or entire school districts. As a result, many teachers and administrators say they are overwhelmed by the expectation that every student -- no matter what special needs he or she might have -- must meet proficiency levels, or the whole school will be rated as a failure.

In addition, NCLB was meant to identify failing schools, ones that had long ago given up. For the most part, these schools with high dropout rates and miserable learning environments were in major urban areas. Except for schools in its largest metropolitan areas, Missouri's schools have not been a part of the nation's school crisis.

More attention these days is paid to NCLB-related tests than to a student's needs or limitations. That, says Cairo, Ill., superintendent Gary Whitledge, is a failure of NCLB that needs to be addressed.

Even though NCLB is a federal mandate, how to achieve the broad aims of the law has been left up to individual states. Some states have set higher standards than others. Each state accounts for subgroups differently, which means some states rank poorly while others are less affected by the poor performance of a small number of students.

In spite of the concerns, some states are using NCLB as a tool to improve overall student performance. Among them is Florida, which would be a good case study for educators and politicians to discuss as they start tinkering with NCLB, due to expire next September.

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