Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Child Left Behind sets dangerous standards

October 23, 2007


Dr. Wes: Several people have asked us to comment on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but until recently I figured it was just one more political jingle that would have little real impact. I was wrong. A thousand words in this column can't explain NCLB, but every parent should take a good look at the program and how it's impacting students.

I'm concerned that NCLB is not having a very positive impact on our kids, their teachers or our schools. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) figures are intended to hold schools accountable for student performance, based on yearly assessments. If a school falls below a certain cutoff, they go on the "needing improvement" list, regardless of external student or community variables. This year, several more schools in Kansas fell below that threshold. Many more will do so in the next few years, including some in and around Lawrence. This is because the standards go up every year, even though budgets, schools and children do not change. And once a school falls below the threshold, it not only has to make up that difference, but also has to meet the rising standards from the present year.

It's kind of like trying to catch a moving bus by running faster and faster. And there isn't another stop on this route.

We're just now getting to the point where schools are falling off the bus and trying to get back on. Educators are becoming very anxious and starting to push students and teachers to drive up scores every year to meet the increasing standards. Larger junior high schools are starting to track kids in math and reading, so that a seventh-grade student may get "promoted" to eighth-grade math based on a test score. I'd advise parents to look VERY HARD at this decision before allowing their child to be so placed. Many schools are treating AYP kind of like a sporting event - with pep rallies and prizes designed to get kids and teachers excited about testing.

Except AYP isn't really in the spirit of fun or healthy athletic competition. It's ultimately about a school's survival. Some kids have been told that if they get X score, the school will throw a huge party. Others let all the kids who score above average go to a movie, the rest will have to stay in school. I've even heard of administrators telling teachers that if the scores don't come up by X points, they'll start firing teachers - assuming apparently that the teachers are the problem, and there are hundreds of "better" teachers just waiting to run out on the field and win the game. Other schools report that teachers are essentially teaching to the test - whether that really creates a good learning process or not. I've even heard of one set of teachers alleging that another set is helping students cheat.

I thought all of this intrigue was lost on most kids and parents, but of late I hear otherwise. Like many things, anxiety tends to roll downhill and some kids and families are getting stressed about AYP. I suggest parents remind kids that the scores on these tests have nothing to do with one's self-worth, progress toward college or ability to learn. These are not ACT or SAT tests. They aren't college essays. They may not even be a good measure of real individual learning. As long as parents are vigilant and protect their child's interests in educational decisions based on these tests, the only reason to get excited is good old SCHOOL SPIRIT. This may seem like rooting for the school's intramural yawning team, but it's better to encourage each student to do his or her best and take pride in the team's accomplishment.

Finally, if you find that you don't like NCLB's impact on your child's education, then advocate enthusiastically - but please don't blame your local schools. Like our kids, they are stuck with an unfunded, statistically improbable mandate.

Julia: As a student from a private school, the NCLB act does not directly affect me. However, the means that the government has taken to ensure that no child is left behind are interesting. It seems that the NCLB act is more intended to improve a score on a grade card than to take the time necessary to sufficiently improve learning. The school system always has room for evaluation and improvement, but the NCLB act seems to leave no stone unturned, undertaking too many issues at once, doing too much too fast without accomplishing anything. It looks at the issue of a child's education from the right perspective, but handles it the wrong way. To judge a school's performance based on a number is like a college judging a potential student based solely on an SAT score; there is a story behind the number that is being neglected. Some students don't test well; some just don't understand a specific subject. Some have learning disabilities. At this point, the act is still overly ambitious. Literally leaving no child behind and getting them to exceed a level of academic excellence would require catering to every child's needs.

There are still some very good ideas to improve learning in the classroom, including smaller class sizes and the use of highly qualified teachers. I've had experience with this seminar-style seating at my school and think that it would be a highly effective and easily established idea. I think that NCLB is seeking to get every child the quality of education you can receive in private or home schooling without requiring a switch to that type of school. At least that would be an ideal outcome, for every future leader of the nation to have received the education they deserve. But the reality of the situation is that the changes within the school system will take time to implement and maybe a few generations of experimentation to accomplish. If the government slows down all the changes that are taking place, the NCLB act might be a worthwhile idea. Otherwise it is going to do little to nothing for children's current education.

Next week: Quite apart from NCLB, a student asks what she can do to get reinvested in her school day.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


SettingTheRecordStraight 10 years, 8 months ago

These two clowns should rename their column, "Attacking the Right, Brought to You by the Lawrence Journal World."

Ragingbear 10 years, 8 months ago

Hey. Don't forget "Solving the World's Problems with Ritalin".

person184 10 years, 8 months ago

SettingTheRecordStraight (Anonymous) says:

These two clowns should rename their column, "Attacking the Right, Brought to You by the Lawrence Journal World."

Perhaps you should debate the actual points with which you disagree.

SettingTheRecordStraight 10 years, 8 months ago

I just want fair and balanced coverage. These two yo-yos have an agenda.

Godot 10 years, 8 months ago

This is the second week in a row that this column was based on politics. It belongs on the editorial page.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 10 years, 8 months ago

STRS says, "I just want fair and balanced coverage. These two yo-yos have an agenda."

Yeah, the agenda is, "what is best for kids" and somehow you have a problem with that. Fair and balanced as in Fox News? Gimme a break. More like, "If I don't like what they are saying, it's not fair and balanced." Come on, get with the program. Your letting your megadittoes show.

Godot 10 years, 8 months ago

It is interesting that the private school educated child comes to the conclusion that it will take "generations" to solve the problems with public education. It took only one generation to completely screw it up and set up the next for abject failure.

BrianR 10 years, 8 months ago

I don't infer anything remotely political about this article. Left vs Right as to be a terrible way to look at the world. So confining.

Sean Livingstone 10 years, 8 months ago

No child left behind is a very good idea, but the way it is implemented is incorrect. We should let every kids enjoy 10 years of free education, however, it should not lower the standards we have on them. Just take a look at my class now, you can start to see how kids start to demand better grades without even working for it.

avoice 10 years, 8 months ago

It's always interesting to me that a group of people, namely teachers, school administrators and those who work for public school districts, get very defensive whenever anyone suggests that something needs to be done about public schools. It couldn't be more obvious that our public school system is not adequately serving our children or, by extension, our society. The time has come (long overdue) to stop stonewalling, stop making excuses, and admit to guilt. Admit that administrators aren't getting the job done. Admit that teachers aren't getting the job done. Admit that tax payers aren't adequately supporting education at all levels. Admist that there are some children/adults who don't care about an education even when you shove it down their throats. Stop the finger pointing, take responsibility, and work together to develop a system that focuses on maximizing assets. Maximize the best administrators. Maximize the best teachers. Maximize the best students.

Public education in the U.S. has devolved into a lose-lose situation because we're focusing the wrong attention on the wrong issues with the wrong students. Thankfully, there are private schools such as Bishop Seabury Academy that are focusing the right attention in the right way on the right students. Because other countries out there do pile resources into developing leaders, while the U.S. piles resources into developing followers. That has been tearing our society down for decades and we are only beginning to realize that we are a country with no backbone left. If we watered down the development of athletes the same way we water down the development of intellectuals, we would have no bragging rights in any sport. Well, we are now at a point where we have no bragging rights in any industry.

woxy 10 years, 8 months ago

"Larger junior high schools are starting to track kids in math and reading, so that a seventh-grade student may get "promoted" to eighth-grade math based on a test score. I'd advise parents to look VERY HARD at this decision before allowing their child to be so placed."

Umm. This has nothing to do with NCLB. This has to do with treating children as individuals, with different strengths and talents, rather than as a homogenous group who must all be subjected to the same curriculum based on their chronological age. I do agree that parents should look very hard at this decision because they should be part of the decision-making process for their child's education, and again, that is part of treating each child as an individual with individual needs. For many of these children who are currently being accelerated in math (and other subjects as well), leaving all 7th graders in 7th grade math would mean that the children performing at the top of the testing guidelines will be the ones left behind. High-ability children are suffering under NCLB while all the administrative attention is focused on making sure the bottom is brought up to the standard.

I applaud the Lawrence school district for trying to meet the needs of ALL children, and not just letting those who have exceeded the standard of AYP sit idly by waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. ALL children deserve to be challenged by their studies. In my experience with subject acceleration (admittedly only my child and anecdotally other children in Lawrence), no child is being forced to be accelerated by the school. Schools make recommendations based on parent requests, test scores, class performance, etc. I'm sure there are children out there who are being pushed too hard to perform at a high level, but that has NOTHING to do with NCLB. That's parenting.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 8 months ago

The real clowns are in Washington D.C. aka facists neocons who would like to see the public school tax dollars go into the pockets of corporate america as a for profit venture. Oddly these are the same people who claim to despise big government unless it comes in the form of corporate welfare. NCLB is probably an avenue to accomplish this feat as the culprits blemish the eye of as many public schools as possible hopefully sucking in the public.

The question becomes why would anyone trust this untruthful administration to submit any rule of measure by which to judge an educational institution aka our public schools or any other educational institution for that matter?

Scrap NCLB and start over leaving the corporate minded charter school cheer leaders and thinkers such as Brownback, the Koch brothers accompanied by the Wal-Mart/Walton family out of the equation.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 10 years, 8 months ago

inscient says, "blaming neocons for NCLBA... ... Like everything socialist, the NCLBA was bound to fail, which it is doing now. Democrats won't take responsibility, so blame it on Bush."

No, I believe that you just posted the dumbest thing on this site. NCLB did not become law until late May 2001. It was well known in Texas before Bush became President as it was one of his initiatives as Governor of Texas. And Democrats are to blame? Bush didn't need to exert influence with neo-cons, they selected him! The execution of such a policy lies with, well, the executive branch and the folks that want(ed) to close down Department of Education.

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