History will likely point to the war in Iraq as the major failure of the Bush administration but the No Child Left Behind education law will surely be near the top of the list of failures. The federal education reform has as its goal that all students will be working at grade level by the year 2014. Most observers say now that the goal is virtually impossible to reach. And long before that mandated deadline arrives, No Child Left Behind will be abandoned, I predict.
Congress is currently rewriting the federal legislation to address concerns from education leaders. For example, it's highly likely that students with limited English skills and those with learning disabilities will be excluded from the federal watchdogs. The way the law now reads is that if any one sub-group of students fail, the entire school is labeled as failing.
Another flaw in the legislation is that schools that fail by just a small amount and those who fail by a wide margin, are both classified in the same category. The penalties for failure are severe though most observers feel only the worst performers will ever be penalized.
Several states, including Missouri, have fine-tuned the performance standards in recent years. That fine-tuning has actually lowered the bar to give schools more flexibility in meeting more of the federal mandates. But these changes alone will never boost achievement to the levels dictated by the federal legislation.
Though the No Child Left Behind law is intended to address the education needs of all students, the real purpose is to shrink the gap in achievement between minority students and the remaining student body. That gap in achievement is substantial in many areas including Sikeston schools. Combined with testing for students in the free lunch program, minority achievement is what has kept many school districts from reaching the levels of achievement as outlined in the federal legislation.
The revision in the federal law may tinker with how we assess limited English students and those with disabilities, but there is nothing that will address the gap between the student body and minority students. It's highly unlikely that the learning gap for minorities will reach the federal levels outlined in the legislation. And that is why, I believe, the entire federal law will eventually be abandoned.
Schools that do all that is asked to bridge this learning gap should not be penalized because one sub-group of students fails to reach some arbitrary goal. And since universal achievement is the goal of the law, it's time we end this phony federal mandate.
Education begins in the home, not in the schools. Until all segments of society decide to provide a learning structure at home, we are wasting our time asking teachers alone to lift up students. It may look good on paper but in practice, No Child Left Behind will never work.