Five Issues That Will Decide If the Era of No Child Left Behind is Really Over

Many public school educators may be surprised to learn that 535 members Congress and their staffs are deciding what teaching and learning will look like in the classroom over the next ten years. But that is exactly what is happening right now on Capitol Hill – the reauthorization, or rewriting, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – better known as No Child Left Behind.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. What kind of education will we be able to deliver to our students for the next decade? Will public schools exit the era of “test and punish,” “narrow curriculum,” “drill and kill” and enter a period characterized more by “opportunity for all” and a “well-rounded education”?

That all hangs on how these five critical issues are addressed – and whether the voices of educators over the next few weeks are heard loud and clear.

standardized-tests1. How Many Tests?
The number of federally-mandated standardized tests almost tripled over the past ten years. Harder to measure, however, is the intense stress felt by students and teachers from an accountability system based strictly on test scores. Whether Congress decides to preserve the one-size-fits-all annual federal testing structure or create a more flexible system for teachers and students is one of the most important questions being resolved right now on Capitol Hill. Less time spent on tests means more time to develop the types of assessments that will provide educators the most useful information to improve instruction and help students learn.

Going to school2. More Time for Teaching and Learning
The expression “teach to the test” didn’t originate with NCLB, but the law practically branded it on every classroom door in the country. The average teacher now spends about 30 percent of her work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing results. The hours and days dedicated to test prep and test-taking have drained the joy out of teaching and learning, which, according to a recent NEA survey, has driven almost half of teachers to consider leaving the profession.

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3. Opportunity for All Students: Measuring the Important Things
In its relentless focus on measuring outcomes with test scores, NCLB failed to provide the resources to ensure that every student had the opportunity to learn and excel. As a result, achievement goals were never reached and teachers, students and schools were pilloried by everyone and anyone looking for a scapegoat. A new education law can set a better course by fostering greater transparency to parents and communities about the kinds of supports students truly need to learn and hold states accountable for providing the necessary resources and learning opportunities. This is why, when applying for ESEA funding, states should be mandated to report “opportunity dashboard” data. This includes student access to extracurricular activities, advanced placement courses, early education, school counselors and nurses and other indicators that can be used to attack inequity and the role of zip codes in determining quality of education.

girl_with_violin4. Remember Arts, Music and Social Studies?
If Congress approves a bill that reduces the amount of, and high stakes attached to, standardized testing, time may be freed up to bring back subjects that have been sidelined during the NCLB era. Over the past decade, the presence of history, art, music, and physical education has diminished. Why? Because these subjects aren’t covered on standardized tests. High-poverty schools have been forced to narrow the curriculum much more drastically than wealthier schools—with worse consequences for low-income students. Regardless of socioeconomic background, every student should have access to a curriculum that fosters creativity and critical thinking—key skills that can’t be developed through rote memorization and no. 2 pencils.

5. Smaller Class Size and Professional Development
ESEA reauthorization isn’t all about the future of testing. Lawmakers are also debating what to do with Title II funds, which are dedicated to training and supporting teachers. Title II can also be used to hire more teachers and decrease class size. Congress is actually considering putting these programs on the chopping block by capping the use of Title II funds for reducing class size at 10 percent. During the 2013-14 school year, districts used 35 percent of their funds for this purpose. Unless this provision is protected, educator jobs will be lost and class sizes – especially in high-poverty schools– will increase, depriving countless students of valuable one-on-one instruction time.

Video: Congress is Talking About Testing

Take Action: Tell Congress to Get ESEA Right! Right now, the U.S. Senate is working on a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Ask your senators to give all students the opportunity to succeed

  • Doug Israel

    Tim, Great piece. Fingers crossed on this, but I think arts and music may already be on the comeback trail:

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  • Renee

    This new CCSS interim assessment is way off base and expects students to do more than The standards outline and define at third grade in writing. Revison, editing and publishing are defined in the standards as “with peer and or adult support” however they are required to revise, edit and PUBLISH ( type) a full multi paragraph essay independently! I am happy we still have music and art in our school wide programs K-5!

  • Doe John

    You forgot SCIENCE!!!!!! Also cast aside. How could you?!

  • >:-|OPINIONATED-deal with it!

    #5 Who will be checking the schools, not the district to ensure Title II money is used to higher teachers to meet class size?

    How many students have been really left behind since NCLB? They want to hold teachers accountable but the system is flawed. There needs to be unannounced visit to ensure that what’s on paper is actually happening.

    • Jeff Miller

      You should see the errors that are on the Algebra I Keystone project based assesent. They want teachers to be perfect but they give assessments with misinformation.

      • >:-|OPINIONATED-deal with it!

        That’s why they don’t want teachers to “read” test items. God only knows how many errors are on it that haven’t been caught, yet they use it to evaluate teachers and schools.

        • hunter

          Complete and correct – every high school science test practice we got for science (from state or county) had easily spotted errors or (worse) answers that were correct based on info from one textbook but wrong based on a different one – in situations where either text might have been used in the system. My fave was one on genetics about a phase in recombination that describe one action as being in each of four possible phases – depending on the text taught from one right answer choice was the only right one and the other was wrong for the students who had been taught from the other text.

      • Jeff Miller

        The reading level on this year’s project is difficult as well. I wish I could share an image on here

  • Corrie Eickman

    We don’t take the CMAS for social studies in 5th grade, so my school has declared that we can only teach social studies on Thursday afternoons. It’s so depressing. We’ve only gotten through 7 chapters so far.

  • Wendi

    At my middle school, we fought hard to increase the amount of science taught. After finally achieving 3 full years for our students, we were appalled when our district cut it back to only 2, even though the state test still covers all 3 years of content. Mind-boggling and especially difficult with 37-40 students per class.

  • Kara Di Giorgio

    I teach at a Title 1 middle school. The lawmakers should realize it’s unfair to hold teachers accountable for students who choose to sleep through 45 minutes of a 90 minute writing test. I tried to wake the student up numerous times and was told “Lady stay out of my face!” How is her conduct representative of my teaching?

    I’ve seen my kids (7th grade) randomly choose answers to a multiple choice exam to get it done. They “answered” 40 questions in about 15 minutes. With computerized testing, that should be detected by the computer and flagged/dismissed and not held against the school or teacher. Why should I or my school suffer because a teen-aged student doesn’t care? You can’t FORCE them to want to learn.

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  • dragonlady9947

    Forgot drama/Theatre Arts as well

  • dragonlady9947

    Ban the Dibels fake assessment. Dribbles should be eliminated immediately. An educational travesty.

  • Leaving the profession

    I have only been teaching in elementary for four years- two of them in a contracted full-time position, and I am so fed up with testing, adjusting to new curriculum, lack of resources, expectations to participate in “extra” activities and committees, blatant violation of contract, my principal’s lack of support in critical parent situations, low financial reward, lack of parental involvement, and lack of motivation from students that I am finally THROWING IN THE TOWEL. Done. Moving on to a source of income that allows me to lead a more balanced work/personal life, and enjoy less stress and a healthier body. Teaching is only for people who can be OK with feeling like they are giving everything they have, and only getting back small bits of hope and appreciation. There are more rewarding careers, financially and spiritually. If I would have known that I would feel like a soldier fighting daily battles without hope of winning the actual war, I would never have spent six years of my life getting a masters degree in education to teach.

    • Teachurobin

      Amen! I too, may be leaving the profession, but am guessing I am much older than you are, yet still need employment. I’m not sure what else to do, or where to try and step next. Please share your ideas on other careers that would be more rewarding both spiritually & financially.

  • Bez

    I am so disappointed when I hear of yet another young educator who has left education totally discouraged and disheartened. So much of their time, talent and energy wasted because they were taught how to teach effectively and then quickly robbed of those opportunities when they actually got into the classroom. I loved teaching and was able to enjoy it for many years before I was encouraged to quit because I was no longer a ‘fit.’ I had no idea how much I had come to hate it until it was over. Loved the students, had great parents, but. . . the rest, not so much. I pray for the future of our next generation of children. I pray for our leaders.