No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Not Such a Failure for Parents
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is one of the major legacies of George W. Bush’s administration. Like most of his policies, it has come under tremendous attack. Teacher’s unions, especially, have been on the offensive against it since its inception. The legislation is flawed, undoubtedly. In the December issue of the National Educator’s Association (NEA) magazine, a former Bush aide is even quoted as saying that the intention of the legislation was to “shame” teachers into doing a better job. Now, naturally, that person is coming out against that approach. However, the NEA is a bit more balanced. And there is good reason for this.
No Child Left Behind is flawed in many ways, not the least of which are the methods used to determine educator accountability and the government’s response to it. Naturally, this has created reactionary activism from teachers’ unions across the country. But what has the legislation done for parents?
As a parent I am obsessive about my children’s education. Regardless of my contributions to their education, I want to ensure that they attend the best possible schools. I have even relocated my family to ensure access to good public schools. How did I know where to go? One of the fall outs of the NCLB legislation is the quality of information now available to parents that was not available before. I can see any public school’s test scores, a breakdown of their scores by school population, and several years’ worth of data. This is as easy as logging onto to www.greatschools.net. This particular website offers comprehensive information about schools as well as parent reviews. Since private schools are not required to participate in the federally mandated testing, I can view parent comments about the school for further insight. People who work at the schools are also welcome to post comments.
Regardless of all of the discussions about the legitimacy of standardized testing as far as its effectiveness offering a well-rounded assessment of a child, the tests offer me the ability to compare schools according to a standard criteria. This was not available to the general public in the past. Parents who say that all schools are basically the same fail to recognize that there are dramatic differences in community influences and involvement, the experience level of teachers, and the school culture. For parents who send their children to the public school for which they are zoned, this information gives them a discussion point for meeting the school administration. If your child’s school is low-performing (according to this criteria), you not only need to know it, you need to know what the school’s administration is doing about it. There are schools that are not in “good” neighborhoods that perform well, or that have shown marked improvement over the past three years. There are schools in seemingly fine neighborhoods that are not performing up to expectations. The information is not infallible. The middle school that I attended is a prime example. I had thought it was an excellent school. My niece went there and tested into one of the top three high schools in New York City, where she now goes along with other high achieving kids from all over the city. However, when I looked up their API (Academic Performance Index) I was shocked at how low it was. My niece’s experience proves that the information I found does not reflect the abilities of every child at the school. However, it does give me means of comparing this school against other schools in the area. When I did this, I discovered that it still had the highest score in the region.
Middle schools are notorious for low scores, predominantly due to the age of the students, their hormonal changes and the social distractions inherent in their growth (from 11-14 years old). Kids go from elementary school to high school readiness during these years, and there very well may be no more drastic three-year change that they undergo during their lifetime. So, if you are checking middle schools, be sure to look at the high school that they feed into, and the elementary schools that feed into them, and other middle schools in the area.
As a parent, I am grateful for the information that NCLB has provided to me. As an educator, I may have a different perspective. But that perspective is influenced many factors that are unimportant to parents. All I want to know as a parent is whether or not my child’s school meets the expectations I have for it. NCLB has given me the ability to discover this. I do not consider this such a failure.