No Child Left Behind is Leaving Its Mark
The landmark “No Child Left Behind Act” is already having a major impact on education in the United States. I applaud its fundamental goal, but like a pebble tossed into a pond, the NCLB Act is having a ripple effect across education. We need to look at the act in a broad context so that we will see how it is changing the surface of how we educate our children and how deeply those changes run.
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I believe it is important to dissect the Act and determine what aspects of the legislation assist or help advance the attainment of high performing middle-grades schools. Let’s examine the key elements of NCLB through the “lens” of the National Forum’s vision statement.
NCLB implications that assist in fostering academic excellence
The Act requires us to press for proficiency in content areas and sets specific targets. Here, the intent is clear: it says we need to think about what students should know and be able to do. Decisions about programs and practices need to be based in measurable evidence. The legislation acknowledges that we need highly qualified teachers and we need to implement activities, strategies and practices that get results.
National Forum’s academic excellence and NCLB
We must all be aware, however, that the Act’s focus on discrete, separate subjects will make more challenging the interrelatedness of the learning process at the middle grades. The act does not acknowledge or encourage students experiencing curriculum that is embedded in an integrated, meaningful context. Middle level teachers can make reaching high standards possible through subject linkages and integration. The content-specific dominance and test-based focus of NCLB can ultimately move the curriculum away from the integrative and “real world” dimensions thus narrowing intellectually, rigorous experiences for students. Frankly, we believe the reliance on potentially high-stakes testing is only part of the solution. Our position avows the importance of multiple forms of assessment in order to keep students’ options open.
Depending on how each state defines “highly qualified”, NCLB impacts the flexibility principals can have in establishing interdisciplinary teams. NCLB does not give attention to the importance of knowing how to teach the content to learners. Teachers for the middle level should have at least two board content teaching areas and be knowledgeable about teaching that content to young adolescents.
NCLB implications that assist in fostering social equity
The legislation insists on “every” student achieving and that schools use subsets of data to make certain that no child is overlooked. The Act judges a school on the extent to which it improves the performance of their subpopulations. NCLB places responsibility for examining the effects of current practices in the hands of the school.
As with academic excellence, the Act explicitly lays out the critical function of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, including those servicing low-performing students. Access to funding both through the school and through community resources is available to bring about improvements and close the achievement gap.
NCLB and the National Forum’s vision statement have a high level of congruence around social equity.
National Forum’s social equity and the NCLB
Highly qualified teachers at the middle grades need content expertise as well as the skills, strategies, and understanding of how to best shape instruction to meet the learning and developmental needs of these learners.
Teachers have to be collaborative, life-long learners, and they have to confront and inspire mindsets that have consciously or unconsciously limited segments of the student population. Multiple assessment strategies and data-based decision making are hallmarks of the Forum’s vision.
The Forum sees the role of teachers and interdisciplinary team members as broader than that of mere content providers. High-functioning teams with heterogeneous populations of students collectively improve achievement through their integrative approach.
The Forum supports social equity through the general tenor of the building’s climate. Such schools look at data about attendance, behavior, suspensions, involvement, and participation. Also important: parental involvement, community participation, engaging instruction that is active and inquiry-based, and democratic participation.
NCLB implications that assist in fostering developmental responsiveness
The Act directly addresses the increased role of parents as active partners in the learning process. Parents are to be informed about the school’s quality and its teachers’ competencies.
There is flexibility and there are options for fund consolidation in order to augment programs and implement innovative programs. Through partnerships, schools can capture more time for professional development and common planning time.
National Forum developmental responsiveness and NCLB
The NCLB does not address the effects that a responsive school can have on achievement. The Forum’s vision statement does set forth a much more expansive description of how high-performing schools respond to the developmental issues of young adolescents. Also, the Schools to Watch criteria (schoolstowatch.org) offers many indicators for areas including developmental responsiveness.
Clearly, NCLB has already begun to impact our schools. As leaders and practitioners, we will need to know both the legislation and the vision for making high performing schools a reality. The middle grades community has made remarkable progress in the past few decades in improving the learning conditions and outcomes of students. NCLB can enlighten the work without inhibiting the middle level improvement process.