International ranking of the world’s education systems has the United States lagging behind other developed nations. When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, President Eisenhower called for a crusade to improve American schools in math and science. It worked. But it didn’t last. Now, other developed nation’s better school systems are threatening America’s place in global economies.
So a new crusade is underway. President Bush started it with No Child Left Behind. President Obama is continuing it with Race to the Top. I asked Dr. Susan Andrews, Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District, to explain how those two programs affect the District.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB)is the generic name of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). (Note: President Bush began calling this law NCLB and the name stuck. President Obama and his administration want to get away from calling it NCLB and therefore, you will see it referred to by its appropriate name ESEA by the current administration.)
This federal law is past due for reauthorization and we are hoping that the new Congress will address the fundamental flaws in the current NCLB act. The positive about NCLB is that the mandates have forced school districts to look at the performance of subgroups of children by ethnicity, socioeconomic levels, and to look at the performance of students with disabilities. In the past, districts could look at their average achievement levels and feel good about how students were achieving. When you look at subgroups of children, however, you see that many children in public schools in America are performing well, but there is a great disparity in the achievement of white students and students of color and there is an even greater disparity when you look at middle class students (regardless of ethnicity) and economically disadvantaged students. This has increased our awareness and our efforts to teach all children with increased rigor in order to close these gaps.
The negatives of NCLB are in the requirements in regard to students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners (ELL). NCLB is in direct conflict with another federal law, IDEA, which requires an individual education plan with individual goals for each student with a disability. NCLB sets an academic bar for students with disabilities at each grade level that schools must obtain without regard to the individual disabilities of the student and requires the SWD students (except the most severely disabled) to take standardized tests on their age appropriate grade level regardless of their functioning level. For example, a student with a disability who is ten years old and functions on a third grade level must take the fifth grade test because he is assigned to that grade. His IEP, however, states that he is learning third grade objectives and is delayed due to his disability. Educators around the nation are hoping that these issues will be addressed in the reauthorization and base school progress on the growth of students from year to year and not on whether or not students meet an artificially set standard. Students who are ELL must take the test in English even when they are not yet proficient in the language.
In my next report, Dr. Andrews explains what Race to the Top will do for the Muscogee County School District.