As reported by this story from Montana, educators everywhere are trying to cope with the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act:
When one Great Falls principal first faced No Child Left Behind, she believed the federal mandate was a political ploy to undermine public education. Many teachers and principals did.There's much more to read in the whole thing.
Five years later, Mary Ann Cosgrove holds a more nuanced view of the 2002 law.
"It has caused us as professionals to grow," said Cosgrove, principal at Skyline Alternative High School. Students, in turn, grow, too. "I really thought that I would be the last person on the planet to say that."
While many disadvantaged students are blossoming under the law, it also has educators at wits end. No Child Left Behind gives schools seven more years to get nearly every student — regardless of ability or disability — up to grade-level performance standards. It imposes sanctions if they don't. It also requires that schools publicize progress — or lack of progress.
For educators, it's a double-whammy. The law mandates that teachers perform an impossible task. Then, it shines a spotlight on them.
Some good comes from these high expectations. Teachers help lift scores of students they never thought could succeed. Eventually, though, even the most skilled teachers and the strongest schools will likely fall short of the mark — virtually 100 percent.
For four years, educators and have wrestled under No Child.
The law is up for reauthorization in 2007, and those working under its aegis say policymakers must make changes — and fast. It puts undue pressure on teachers, and it often feels severe and inflexible.
"Test, test, test, test, test, test, test." That common assessment of No Child comes from parent and school employee Brenda Laramore.
Parents worry the program is sapping their children's love of learning. Many teachers, parents and principals don't want the next four years to feel like the last.
It's hard to skirt politics in discussions of No Child Left Behind.
President George Bush signed the mandate into law, and one day after last Tuesday's mid-term elections, he promised to make it a priority. His approval rating slipped as low as 31 percent earlier this summer. It's hovering around 40 percent now. Some believe that when Bush leaves office, the education bill's cumbersome requirements will melt away, too.
It might be wishful thinking. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was one major architect of the bill, and it received bipartisan support. In Tuesday's elections, Democrats took over both the U.S. House and Senate. Whatever happens next, those in education believe the focus should stay on children.
"I have hope that No Child Left Behind doesn't become a political football," said Chris Wortman-Engren, curriculum and research director for Great Falls Public Schools.
The law aims to fix a nationwide problem: The achievement gap remains wide between rich and poor students and between white and ethnic minority students.
In this respect, the mandate is largely working. Ethnic minorities here are moving ahead. So are students with less money.
Frankly, what has always bothered me about NCLB is how it puts total responsibility for student success on the schools while exempting parents from any responsibility whatsoever when it comes to making sure that children arrive at school on time rested and ready to learn.
Teachers are held accountable for each student's progress even though they are not empowered to direct that parents attend conferences in order to discuss their child's academic needs or implement plans to remedy their child's underperformance.
In California, teachers cannot even direct that children attend after-school tutoring.
In other words, the federal law mandates ever-increasing performance expectations for teachers without giving them the disciplinary tools that would help them do the job.