Some good news for a change for educators! This past Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and delivered a strong message that No Child Left Behind needs to be revamped because it sets too many schools up for failure, something teachers have been trying to say since its inception.
Duncan stated that, according to his department, it is estimated that four out of five schools in the United States, which could be as high as 82%, will be unable to reach the NCLB benchmark which states that all students will test at a proficient level by 2014. (Educators have made this same claim since the bill was passed in 2001, but our concerns have fallen upon deaf ears. Ironic that suddenly the Department of Education has come to a conclusion we have known from the start, isn’t it?)
Duncan further stated that when this current year’s test scores are counted, the numbers could reveal that our nation’s schools are already at risk, but he is not putting the blame on schools, which seems to be the favorite past time of many these days. Instead, he is putting the blame where it finally belongs; on No Child Left Behind.
“This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk,” Duncan told the committee.
One of the contributing factors making it increasingly more difficult to reach the goal of 100% proficiency is that each year the standards are higher than the year before. As a result, Duncan told the committee that the percentage of schools that are not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress could rise from the current level of 37% to 82%.
He further stated that all states and districts have to “implement the same set of interventions in every school that is not meeting AYP, regardless of the individual needs and circumstances of those schools” because they are governed by the same federal law. Duncan called this concept “fundamentally flawed.” He explained, “By mandating and prescribing one-size-fits-all solutions, No Child Left Behind took away the ability of local and state educators to tailor solutions to the unique needs of their students.”
Duncan was not just there to ask for the reauthorization and speedy revamping of NCLB; he was also defending President Obama’s budget request for 2012. In his statement, he expressed his concern that the United States under-invests in education compared to higher-performing countries.
Arne Duncan is my new hero, at least at this moment! I admit that I have not always agreed with what he has said or done, and I have frequently taken issue with Race to the Top, one of his pet projects. But hearing these welcome words about NCLB, a law that has angered teachers due to its impossibility, helps to relieve some of the disappointments and worries teachers are going through in these difficult times.
I have blogged that I volunteered to teach in a co-taught, self-contained classroom for at least two years. SPED students make up half of my classroom population. Now, anyone who has worked with these students knows how ridiculous it is to expect that we will be able to get every one of these students to pass the OAA. We have one student who got only 7 questions correct on last year’s math test! Yes, you heard me right! A few of our SPED students will probably pass one or more of this year’s tests, but most will not. How many teachers are going to want to work with these students if they, by law, must get them to reach a level of proficiency on all of their tests? It’s impossible, it’s ludicrous, and it is ultimately unfair to these students who deserve teachers who are excited to work with them, not assigned to do so against their will.
And there are always those students who do not qualify for SPED services but fall between the cracks nonetheless. Getting these students to pass, in spite of multiple attempts at intervention is often equally impossible.
So, while it astounds me that it took this long for those in power to realize that No Child Left Behind was a flawed piece of legislation from the get go, I am grateful that it sounds like it is going to be analyzed more realistically now. When Diane Ravitch, a staunch supporter of NCLB initially, has been speaking out against it and claiming that it will destroy public education, it’s clear that it is long past time to make some necessary changes to this law.
So, thank you, Arne Duncan, because, with these simple words, you have given educators everywhere some real hope for the future at a time when we are desperately searching for any hope at all.