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How No Child Left Behind Left Most Kids Behind

All our current woes connect to the K-12 education system.

Young adults born near or after the millennium have been significantly influenced by a broken education system that thrives on facade.

When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, public education began an inevitable path toward out-of-control bureaucracy.  NCLB stipulated a lot of measures (700 pages worth) that are supposed to improve the quality of instruction delivered nationwide, leading to increased achievement among America's schoolchildren.

That's the theory, anyway.  Unfortunately, it was never beta-tested.  Now, we are stuck with a law that created a boondoggle of government oversight at the DOE, because every one of those measures is assessed through paperwork submitted by school districts to their state boards of education, and then on to the DOE for final review:  reports on testing data, teacher and student data, curricular data, improvement data...

All these reports affect something called Adequate Yearly Progress, 

assessed annually on each school district by the DOE.  The word progress is misleading, however, as it provides a lawful caveat against actual achievement.  As long as districts can show, through their documentated 'evidence', that they are working toward student achievement improvement, they will receive a favorable report card.  This encourages documentation to prove intent only.  Politicians clearly did not think this through.    


Testing   is its own quagmire:

The results can lawfully be altered by exemptions such as

  • new to the school, homeless, F & R, or non English-speaker

  • Special Ed [Many students who are not learning-disabled are staffed into the SpEd program for both the testing caveats and the funding.]

  • behavioral, psychological, or other issue

  • non-SpEd low performer

It takes a lot of paperwork to make the above exemptions a reality. And who audits that paperwork? The school districts themselves.  (Can anyone say "conflict of interest"?)

Why is it important to manage test scores that must be reported to the DOE?

Because NCLB ties funding to them.

School districts receive an annual report card, based on those test scores but mitigated by School Improvement Plans, a nebulous ingredient fully understood only by the administrators who devise them, collect their data, assess their school 'growth', and submit the paperwork to their bosses at the district level. 

And even with all this legal management of data submitted to the DOE, the nation's report card shows that fewer than 40% of American children in grades 4 and 8 are proficient in math and reading.  Fewer than 40%! 

Check it out for yourself at The Nation's Report Card

Everyone in education has become so focused on obtaining a favorable rating they have set aside the true mission of education:  providing quality curriculum and instruction to the nation's children.

The proof for this can be seen in the disconnect between consistently favorable ratings for many of our teachers and schools verses the overall failing performance of children nationwide.

What accounts for these favorable ratings?  The reports and the non-testing data submitted.  For instance, a part of that non-testing data is this:  school districts gain points toward their report card for the percentage of teachers with an advanced degree, beyond the B.A. required to become a teacher.  The M.A. can be in anything: art history; social/emotional learning; gender studies; underwater basket-weaving...

How do all these advanced degrees help in a classroom? And more to the point, why do school districts reward them? 

Because of the optics. 

A school district able to announce on its home webpage that 80% of its teachers hold master's degrees looks incredibly good to the populace it serves...until you realize the study behind many of those degrees.  Art history doesn't help you walk a child through parsing a paragraph for beginning, middle, and ending statements. And it doesn't guarantee that you will persist in helping children attain concepts until they display some success.

The real effect of NCLB is that it gave people who have no interest in working with children a path toward a bright future in education merely through their advanced degree and their thorough documentation.  What it did to the others, those who went into teaching for the love of instruction, was require them to place that ideal on the back burner so they could keep up with the paperwork requirements of proving they are working with children.

When teachers are consumed by bureaucratic requirements,

for whatever reason,

they are not focused on teaching.

And what have the students in their classrooms been doing while the teachers are not teaching? They are often online, working on reading and math programs or "researching" independent projects.  It is not uncommon to see everyone in a classroom on their computer at the same time:  students and teacher.  The teacher is completing her paperwork and the students are learning more about reading, writing, and math...


Yeah, right.

The trouble with relying on self-reported data for verification that it is not, and cannot ever be, a valid measurement tool. 

An organization cannot be relied on to police itself. And that includes the DOE, who submits its own reports to Congress.


What began as a mandate to crack down on lackadaisical school performance in 2001 turned into a fiasco unforeseen by our politicians.  It's time for the 20-year beta-test to end.  The theory was unsuccessful, and politicians now have an obligation to repeal the law that created the boondoggle.

We have built a house of cards on a foundation of facade. Americans in the under 30 demographic have been deprived of a quality education because paperwork became more important than instruction.

This has created a cracked infrastructure of human capital, and it is an issue worthy of attention.


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