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In Theory: The No Child Left Behind Act

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In Theory: The No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (often referred to as No Child Left Behind) was a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America's schools. President George W. Bush described this law as the "cornerstone of my administration" (Department of Education). It allows low-income families, whose children traditionally have less academic opportunities, to move to private school or specialized charter schools via a school voucher. The act was expected to introduce high standards for education, the belief that all children, regardless of class, should have equal opportunities to learn, and accountability for failing school systems. However, the act is severely flawed. The guidance for individual states has habitually been unclear, students with disabilities are often overlooked, and the funding for abiding school systems has not been implemented as promised. With these faults, more often than not, No Child Left Behind prevents children from receiving the quality of education that they need and deserve. In theory, the NCLB provides many wonderful options, but when put into practice, those options are nonexistent or flawed. This paper will explore both the positive and negative sides of the NCLB in an effort to educate and prove that there are things that can be done to improve the act.

According to the Department of Education, the NCLB "supports learning in the early years, thereby preventing many learning difficulties that may arise later" It was designed to target resources for use in early childhood education (reading, math, and language programs) that could bolster the abilities of the young student. Programs that have been implemented at schools across the country include standardized after-school math programs, Reading First, which provides grants to schools to help implement scientifically proven methods of instruction, and the Mathematics and Science Initiative, which helps to ensure that schools use scientifically proven methods of teaching math and science (National Education Assn). It is clear that the main goal of these programs is to improve learning rates and thereby increase test scores, which has indeed happened in many school systems.

On the other hand, as also indicated by the National Education Association,

...states and schools are limited in how test scores are used to measure school performance. A snapshot of the percent of students proficient or above on the day of the test is the only measure allowed. Unless schools meet their yearly proficiency percentage target, they get no credit for growth in the percentage of students who are proficient over time, or for raising student achievement levels, such as from below basic to basic, or from proficient to advanced levels. Schools get no credit for longitudinal growth in student achievement, such as how students in a particular grade have improved from the beginning to the end of the school year, or how a group of students have improved as they advance in grade level. (National Education Assn.)

This proves that the NCLB was not designed with long term goals in mind. To correct this issue, the act would have to be amended to allow for test score flexibility. One suggestion made is that student growth not only be measured by tests throughout the school year, but over an extended period of time (Brown 275). This "extended period" could range from two years to the entire time a student is in a particular school system. The reasoning behind this is that the NCLB cannot adequately determine a child's educational growth based only on a year's worth of certain test scores. Growth can only (theoretically) be determined over longer periods of time, hence the suggestion.

Another problem with NCLB is that students with disabilities are often wrongly assessed and overlooked. Dr. D. Kim Reid, a professor of Disability Studies at Columbia University, stated that, because

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