Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the historic and highly controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The act signified a new era of education in America via the reformation of a system desperately in need of blunt refinement.
While the intent of the bill was clear, both the content and practical implications have been hotly debated – from Capitol Hill to the dinner table – from day one. I find it absolutely wonderful that an initiative has been taken to improve the American public school system.
Furthermore, I understand this may require government intervention on some level; however, NCLB carries a few heavily-weighted points of concern, most notably that increasing teacher accountability and standardized testing is regressive and dangerous to the American public school system.
Having spent my first two years of college as an Education major, I’ve seen prospective teachers from math to language arts dedicate countless, passionate hours to their dream of one day changing lives.
On a daily basis I interacted with other education majors who were eager to get out of the classroom and well, into the classroom.
It became clear that the keen, proactive understanding of a challenge as immense as educating America’s future is a gift few possess and many take for granted.
I see teaching as a career that demands passionate educators, but I see standardized tests as tools which, however inadvertently, strip the job of any room for such passion and negate a great deal of the preparation teachers receive from college for an otherwise intrinsically beneficial career.
Being from Ohio, I’ll use the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) as exhibit A.
In regard to the OGT, teachers begin “teaching for the test” early on, thus slowly retreating from their own personal methods of connecting with and educating students.
By instituting these tests, the government is essentially quantifying educational adequacy with an equation.
In a nutshell, state governments across the nation are conveying a message of, “If you answer a certain amount of these specific questions correctly, you are considered to be a competent prospective member of society.”
Teachers begin playing into this game, adhering to the bare minimum for the OGT and, as a result, gradually accepting education as a mere formality.
If a school earns an A+ on the state report card based on its students’ performance on the test, it may look good on paper. But this says very little about the personal experience students gain from teachers who have been sucked dry of passion for their job.
I believe there is a strong negative correlation between standardization of education and teacher accountability.
The government believes teachers should be held more responsible for students’ success yet revokes the privilege of teachers’ autonomy.
If the success of the student depends more on the test than the teacher, then perhaps NCLB consultants should hold the state board more accountable than the teachers based on the content on the test.
Standardization and formality of education is essentially creating a world of education that implies anybody can be a teacher.
This is essentially because it doesn’t take a college degree to be able to stand at the front of a room and hand out vocabulary sheets while the state board holds your hand via explicit, bare minimum requirements.
Teachers want to teach. By mandating intellectual standards, No Child Left Behind has discouraged a diverse, personalized learning environment and stripped the educational experience of virtually all substance.
Before we head to the voting polls this November, let’s spend a minute thinking about the well being of those who are not yet old enough to vote.
After all, that was you and I no more than a few years ago.
The challenge to progress toward a more balanced, sustainable education reform will certainly remain prominent for years to come, but only if we make it so.
NCLB’s monumental yet systematically flawed impact on the future of our country cannot be met with complacency, but instead with upward pressure from the American people for a more thorough policy.
This policy should be one that protects teacher autonomy, promotes intellectual growth and yields a high return on our investment in the spirit of America.