Home >> A Issues >> The NCLB Act: Oppression or Opportunity?

Search form

Home >School Issues Channel >Archives >StarrPoints > School Issues Article
S C H O O L I S S U E S A R T I C L E

The NCLB Act: Oppression or Opportunity?

The NCLB Act: Oppression or Opportunity?
Share StarrPoints

With the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government has mandated the development of standards and assessment procedures; it has left the content of those standards and that assessment up to individual states. It has left it to educators to determine the best strategies for teaching to those standards. What will happen if educators fail to meet that challenge?


When my children were younger and reluctant to clean their rooms, my directive of last resort was always, "If you don't do it, I will. And you won't like the way I do it." They'd roll their eyes, throw up their hands, and wonder (often aloud!) what unreasonable demand I was going to make next. It didn't take them long to discover that I meant what I said. They also found that, because I didn't know what mattered, I often threw away tacky-looking "treasures," misplaced must-wear clothing, and vacuumed up precious pennies -- or worse. Eventually, they wisely began to keep their rooms in a condition that met my standards (at least minimally!), but they sacrificed a lot of valuable "stuff" before they did.

Congress recently passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, telling educators that their students must meet new standards in reading and math. Some educators have rolled their eyes at the impossibility of meeting those standards. Others have wondered (often aloud!) what the federal government knows about what goes on in their classrooms. Still others have thrown up their hands in frustration and vowed to teach to the test.

Look What She
Starr-ted!

Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four grown children, has been an education writer for more than a decade. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

No one is denying the facts. The 2000 Nation's Report Card revealed that more than 25 percent of white fourth graders, 63 percent of African American fourth graders, and 58 percent of Hispanic fourth graders cannot read at a basic level. Almost 20 percent of white fourth graders, more than 50 percent of Hispanic fourth graders, and more than 60 percent of African American fourth graders lack basic math skills. And it doesn't get much better after that. High School Graduation Rates in the United States average 74 percent; 78 percent for white students, 56 percent for African American students, and 54 percent for Hispanic students. Despite the best intentions, excellent teachers, dedicated administrators, innovative programs, and the advances of technology, we are failing to teach too many of our students -- way too many of our minority students.

Education in this country is a mess. With the NCBL Act, Congress and President Bush are telling educators to clean up that mess. No one has said "or else," but the implication is there. Who will do it if educators don't? And what valuable "stuff" will our students lose if that happens?

Many of the teachers I know are worried about the implications of NCLB. They're worried that federal interference in education will squash their creativity, override their judgment, and turn them into assembly line workers, producing reading- and math-literate students (perhaps), who are knowledgeable about facts but educated only in the art of test taking.

What the NCLB Act really does, in fact, is offer educators a window of opportunity. The federal government has mandated the development of standards and assessment procedures; it has left the content of those standards and that assessment up to individual states. It has left it to educators to determine the best strategies for teaching to those standards.

So far.

If we don't seize this opportunity while it still is an opportunity, if we don't find out why we are failing so many of our students and determine what we can do about it, if we fail to prove that creativity and individuality can exist along with reading and math proficiency, if we don't demonstrate that we can develop lessons and strategies that work for all students, that window of opportunity will close and our worst fears may come true.

I don't know a single teacher who believes that government officials should determine what happens in our classrooms. But I know a lot of teachers who are sitting back waiting to see what happens next. The trouble with that course of action is that, whatever happens, if we leave it up to someone else to do, we probably won't like the result.

How will you respond to the challenge that Congress and the President have set for educators? Take the test below to find out!

Directions: Choose the phrase that best completes each of the statements below:

  1. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 requires the implementation of
    a. statewide standards in reading and math.
    b. mandatory strategies for teaching reading and math.
    c. a national curriculum.

  2. In order to comply with those requirements, administrators must establish in their schools an atmosphere of
    a. academic excellence.
    b. test readiness.
    c. educational standardization.

  3. In order to comply with those requirements, teachers must
    a. utilize a variety of teaching strategies, including rote learning and creative problem-solving activities.
    b. teach to the test.
    c. replace creative lessons with practice and drill.

  4. In order to comply with those requirements, school districts should purchase
    a. a variety of quality educational materials.
    b. test practice materials.
    c. government-created curriculum materials.

  5. In order to comply with those requirements, educators must find new ways to ensure that all students
    a. achieve math and reading proficiency.
    b. achieve passing grades on annual proficiency tests.
    c. conform to government curriculum standards.

  6. The NCLB Act places control of students' education in the hands of
    a. educators.
    b. the state government.
    c. the federal government.
Did you answer a to all those questions? If not, you're liable, in the not too distant future, to end up answering c.