Educator Max Fischer takes another look at the No Child Left Behind Act. He updates his initial reactions -- published a year ago -- and takes a close look at some of the positive results of the law in his own classroom. Included: Join the discussion: share the NCLB "positives" you have observed in your classroom or district.
Max W. Fischer
Twelve months ago, I railed about my first year teaching under the No Child Left Behind Act. In Of "No Child Left Behind" and Blueberries, I disparaged the law for its unrealistic expectations and for how its unilateral accountability impaled teachers. I was so incensed by the law's assault on education that I never even actually got rolling about its unfunded financial mandates.
A year later, and I am still fuming over a law that singles out education as the only recipient of government funds that must depend on an incredulously legislated standard of perfection. While I firmly believe every teacher can improve his or her individual performance, the blind assertion that classroom teachers can single-handedly turn around student performance in the face of poverty, parental indifference, family dysfunction, and society's apathy is ludicrous.
Some of the things that seem to be working best to raise student performance in my district are special before- and after-school programs that provide tutoring for at-risk students. But programs such as those involve an infusion of money that fiscally strapped local districts and state education departments often must fund.
MOMENTS OF APPRECIATION OF NCLB
That diatribe aside, as year two under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 (the official title for No Child Left Behind) ends, I have come -- in moments of blissful objectivity -- to appreciate some aspects of NCLB even as I quietly delight in the rising tide of public comment against the law.
Among the elements of the law I am favorably impressed by is the call for a highly qualified teacher in each and every classroom. An instructor immersed in knowledge about his specific discipline and skilled in the nuances of content delivery is vital to the success of students.
Simultaneously, I am cognizant that, in many rural regions of the nation, districts are hard pressed to meet that demand. In addition, shortages of special education instructors must be addressed in urban, as well as rural, locales. All of us know that somewhere along the way, pragmatism and virtue must meet to make the best practical application of the concept of "highly qualified" teachers.
NCLB mandates testing for student proficiency too. This has led my state's department of education -- and those in most other states too -- to decree a more standardized curriculum. In turn, local districts have introduced common assessments that ensure that vital criterion within each subject will be taught at each grade level. There's something to be said in favor of truth in advertising. A teacher should be held responsible for teaching the expected content. When it comes to curriculum content, individual teachers cannot create their own personal agendas. The days of teachers closing the door and doing just what they want are over.
The drive for standardized assessment has also led to a direct change in how I assess my students' learning. Developing new tests that replicate the state's proficiency format has presented an opportunity for me to improve my own assessment and ensure that my examinations challenge students to use higher-level reasoning skills.
NCLB's requirements also have encouraged my renewed focus on differentiated instruction. Any elementary level teacher -- and I was one for many years -- can tell you that you can't paint each student in a typical classroom with the same instructional brush; every classroom includes many levels of readiness. Those levels don't magically disappear when students reach middle or high school. As a middle school teacher, NCLB forces me and my colleagues to take the initiative to reach my lowest functioning pupils in order to optimize their chances for success as I provide challenges for my upper-echelon students that will hold their interest.
"UNFUNDED MANDATES" MAKE PAGE-ONE NEWS
The fuss over No Child Left Behind's unfunded mandates, coupled with my state's general funding problems, have propelled education to front-page news on a routine basis. The word is spreading about the effects NCLB can have on individual schools or districts. That has raised suspicion about NCLB among all taxpayers, especially parents of school-age children.
Education's presence on page one has led to some much-needed tweaking of NCLB mandates. During the past year, the Department of Education has relaxed four elements of NCLB:
These changes are detailed at Department of Education Responding to Demands for Improvement.
So, yes, I have found some meaningful substance within NCLB. Personally, it has helped keep my professional juices flowing as I march into my fourth decade of teaching. However, as the No Child Left Behind Act enters year number three, I wonder if the politicians will be able to recognize one fundamental truth: Just as classroom teachers must recognize that the "single brush" instructional method isn't pedagogically sound, bureaucrats trying to label all public schools with a similar broad-brush approach must recognize that the diversity of our nation prohibits a such a constricted approach to educational reform.
A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient and medieval history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.
Article by Max W. Fischer
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