Most of the new ideas for educational reform have historically been met with initial controversy. And in recent years, there has not been legislation that has been more controversial than the No Child Left behind Act of 2001. Like most controversies, funding is at the center of the NCLBA. The NCLBA holds schools accountable for student achievement based on standardized test scores and ties federal dollars to the outcome of these scores.
On its face, this type of accountability for school districts makes sense. Indeed, two significant - and meritorious - intentions of this legislation were to improve academic achievement for disadvantaged students and to provide language instruction for limited English proficient and immigrant students. However, in a recent study, researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin found that the impact of the Texas public school accountability system, which served as the model for the No Child Left Behind Act, directly contributes to lower graduation rates in large urban school districts.
Under pressure to show improved ratings in student test scores, school districts took measures to ensure higher test scores by holding students back. Although this helped raise test scores, it also contributed to affected students getting discouraged and dropping out of school. Ironically, the disadvantaged students who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the NCLBA had become disenfranchised from public education and this in turn has made the school districts look as though test scores were improving. Consequently, the loss of disadvantaged students has allowed the school districts to be rewarded.
If the NCLBA has failed, it begs the question of what we can do to reform education. Maybe it's time we turned away from government-mandated programs and funding awards based on standardized testing, and tried using our money to hire the best and the brightest teachers we can find. After all, when classroom doors close at the start of each school day, we are putting our trust in individual teachers to take responsibility for helping students succeed.
Since funding is at the center of most educational reforms, let's fund an initiative such as the No Teacher Left Behind Act where adequate funding is provided to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers we can find. Let's put our resources into ensuring that we can provide the best salaries and the best working conditions for our teachers commensurate with the value they add to society - now and in the future. I'm willing to bet that if we don't leave our teachers behind, we won't leave our children behind either.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.