Is "no child left behind" a fatally flawed concept?

In life as in all things there is a bell curve of ability and motivation. If you spend an inordinate amount of time and resources trying to mainstream non-academically inclined kids aren’t you dragging the whole system down? If kids don’t want to learn why not move them to alternative work-school tracks as quickly as possible.

Why keep disaffected and disruptive kids in the mix? They are unhappy and the school is unhappy. Put them on vocational tracks and put them to work as quickly as possible and let them be productive.

At some point don’t we need a reality check about the limits of good intentions and the limited functional envelope of some kids abilities?

As originally implemented, yes. It included special needs kids who were physically incapable of meeting the educational levels, so it failed by the end of its first year.

Moving thread from IMHO to Great Debates.

I’m of two minds.

On one hand, if someone doesn’t want to be in school, they don’t want to be in school. They should be encouraged to find something that is relevant to their lives and their futures.

On the other hand, I’ve seen tracking gone wrong way to often. I’ve seen a straight A student put in remedial classes because he had a Mexican last name (the councilor actually said “I though you would want to be with your friends.”) I’ve seen a student score 5’s on multiple AP exams but never told a single thing about how to get in to college, because he was an ESL student.

Luckily the first one had parents who knew how to fight back and get their kid the education he deserved. The second one came from an immigrant family who had no idea how the system worked. Last I head he was working in a machine shop.

These are just a few examples from my personal friends. Frankly, I’m willing to believe just about anything, especially when it comes to where they place kids in racially divided schools. Sometimes it is honest mistakes- councilors are overworked and don’t know their kids well. Sometimes it is institutionalized racism at its finest.

I mean, is there really any believable chance that the slow kid from the rich family is going to head off to trade school? How kids get sorted out ends up, in practice, to be about a lot more than just ability. And that works out pretty shitty for some people.

And ultimately I believe most students will rise to the occasion. If you expect a lot out of students and treat them with dignity and respect, usually you will get something worthy of that respect out of them.

One: the “send them to a vocational track” meme you hear on this issue is flawed: vocational studies are difficult. Plumbers and carpenters and mechanics make good money because those are difficult jobs that take not just skill, but ingenuity and creativity. The trades used to be dominated by smart people of working-class background who had ambition and talent but that couldn’t go to college because they didn’t have the money. Now those same kids go to college because the same talent and drive that would have made them a well paid skilled carpenter now makes them a well paid computer programmer, and they get to work in the air conditioning. A kid that can’t learn algebra one isn’t going to be any more successful learning mechanics.

More later. I have class.

even sven, I agree with you that our expectations often tell kids exactly how they should act, and they’ll often oblige us. But I don’t think that’s what “no child left behind” means, either the theory or the Act of the same name.

NCLB (the Act) is dreadful, on so many levels. And the basic level is, as the OP says, that not everyone is intellectually or physically equipped to be average or better, by definition. Those who think they can, with extra studying, alternative teaching techniques, or financial disincentives, need to go back and study statistics! Due to social promotion (see next rant), there are students in grade 3 who are simply not capable of grade 3 work, and NCLB seems to think that if we just threaten and test them enough, suddenly they’re going to get smarter.

The rise of mainstreaming severely disabled kids, social promotion and age based classrooms are examples of “no child left behind” as educational theory, and they’re similarly flawed. Not only does a chronic masturbator with violent outbursts and an IQ of 85 NOT benefit from education in a normal classroom, he takes up an inordinate amount of resources from the teacher (even with an aide) and provides an irresistible distraction to the other students at the same time. Social promotion takes the most fundamental consequence away from students who are doing poorly, whether out of laziness or just not getting it, and basing classrooms on age instead of ability leaves teachers trying to figure out how to meet the needs of advanced and remedial students in the same time period. It just doesn’t work well, despite the claims of specialists in the field.

IMHO, we need to encourage realism, as well as idealism, and we need to remove the social stigma from trade schools and blue collar work while simultaneously increasing all students’ awareness of the options open to them. Good luck with that.

The more I think about it, the more attractive homeschooling is.

The flip side of this is that some of these fields are sorely hurting for lack of new blood, and that problem is only going to get worse as time goes by. In the past, students that couldn’t get past high school could still find some measure of success via this route, but now it is sorely downplayed as an option for teenagers. As WhyNot says, students need a better idea of all the options open to them, and for most blue collar work is going to barely blip the radar right now.

I am not sure what NCLB ever really meant other than a GWB pander to the female vote. I took it as essentially “I care so much about your children not getting left behind that I am going to get the federal government involved in education.” As formulated by GWB, I never had a notion that it meant “everyone will be tracked at the speed of the slowest learners.” In fact, increased government funding and bureaucracy tends to reward setting up and channeling people into multiple special ed. programs.

Only if the reason they couldn’t get past high school was financial or social class related: if they couldn’t handle the rigor of high school, they weren’t going to be a successful plumber. Plumber’s helper, maybe, but those are not near the same caliber of jobs. the dearth of skilled tradesmen is not because the low kids aren’t going into trades, it’s because the bright kids aren’t.

Which is exactly why I said, “we need to remove the social stigma from trade schools and blue collar work while simultaneously increasing all students’ awareness of the options open to them.”

But you’re also misrepresenting some blue collar positions: many of them *are *perfectly suited for the less intellectually inclined. I had a grandfather, wonderful loving man who made his living sharpening drill bits by hand. Not an intellectual powerhouse, but he didn’t need to be to make a very good living and send two kids to college. And yes, that’s still an actual job. I’ve talked to the guy who hauls away my trash. Nice fella, not a lot of RAM in the ol’ noggin, still he has a more stable financial life than my Ph.D. holding husband.

And it doesn’t take the same KIND of smarts to be a plumber as an architect. Sure, plumbers aren’t morons, but it takes a different set of attributes to learn a vocational subject or as an apprentice than as a traditional college student. If you’ve got a kid with decent reasoning skills who is just spaced out, hates homework, refuses to kowtow to “asshole” teachers with ridiculous demands like actual attendance…he could very well learn plumbing, or locksmithing or construction without putting him (and his teachers) through the torture of continued classroom time spent on American Literature in the 19th Century or Art History or Statistics. Not because he’s stupid, but because he’s not going to benefit from a well-rounded Humanities based education. Teach 'im what he needs to know to make a living and let him go do it!

I really believe that *everyone *has something to contribute, the trick is expanding our awareness of Things You Can Do To Earn a Living, so that you don’t come out of high school thinking you can be a Teacher, a Lawyer, an MBA, a Doctor or a Starbucks employee.

I think this is a common misconception about NCLB – it doesn’t required students to perform at average levels, but just to meet state defined STANDARDS for their grade level. It actually doesn’t even require this at this point in time, just that schools make progress toward achieving this goal–with more and more kids meeting the standards each year.

Ok. Now I have a bit of time.

My issue with NCLB is philosophical. NCLB, at its core, holds that the ideal situation is that 100% of the students master 100% of the material presented. Under this philosophy, you don’t present material that isn’t central and required–you reduce everything to the core, to what the kids really, really need, and you teach the hell out of that until they have all reached mastery.

My own classroom philosophy is very different. I teach way over their heads. I don’t, honestly, expect many of them to “master” more than about 50% of what I teach, and I don’t expect any of them to master all of it. But I find that when I set the standards impossibly high, they come up much further than when I set the standards in a range they could probably achieve, with effort.

For example, on the AP Language and Comp exam, students write three essay that are each graded on scale of 1-9. If you can average a 6, you’ll probably pass the exam, and a 6, honestly, is not that hard to write. If you read the sample 6’s, it’s easy to think “Gah. Anyone could do that.”. So a lot of teachers teach their kids to write 6’s. NCLB would advocate teaching the kids to write 6’s, and the best and the brightest would write the best damn 6’s you ever saw. I teach my kids to write 9’s, even though very few (like 2-3 a year) are really capable of it, and none of them can do it consistently. But what I find is that the failed 9, the poorly realized 9, the incomplete 9, is often at least a 6, and it leaves the door open for more.

NCLB assumes that you can teach something really well and it will stay taught. I tend to think that no matter how well you teach something, they never get all of it, so you have to overteach like crazy if you want to get most of them up to par.

I agree that the type of educational enviroment that best suits a given child may vary tremendously, and we’d be wise to extend more varied opportunities to more kids. But when people say “Some kids are too slow for algebra, let them go to trade school, my plumber makes more than me!”, well, there’s a reason your plumber is well paid–it’s not just a gross job, it’s a job not everyone can do. There’s a sort of snobbery toward the trades that really bothers me. I’ve never known a stupid carpenter or mechanic. I’ve known some very non-verbal ones, but the successful ones were never stupid.

My impression of this act is that it’s a brilliant piece of misdirection. Schools are required to improve the number of kids who pass/improve the standard test or face reductions in funding. Teachers teach the test material and don’t challenge them with a broader education (I know this is a broad brush, so don’t lynch me, teachers). Naturally, the test scores/percentage passing improves, so the administration can then point to the NCLB as being “successful”. In the meantime, we’re graduating people with a narrow view of the world.

The concept was, I understand it, to create accountability in education and have consequences for educators poor performance thereby improving education overall. What is wrong with that? The reality is much different, but the idea itself isn’t bad.

But the problem is that is requires ALL students to meet those requirements. That includes the profoundly developmentally delayed, the nonverbal autistic kids, the behavioral disability kids who are never in school… You can’t have 90%* of your entire school passing - you must have 90% of each *subgroup *of kids passing. That’s the numbers game that makes it impossible. You have 6 developmentally delayed kids, 5 of them must test with scores in the “normal” range for their grade group. The very definition of developmentally delayed means that they can’t do that - if they could, they wouldn’t be delayed!

The state standards are written for kids of average to better ability. They shouldn’t be applied to kids with academically relating disabilities. They are for the NCLB Act. Since you can’t better the kids, the only thing left to do is lower the standards. What’s the point of that?

*Number derived rectally. I don’t remember the actual numbers required by the act, and I’m too lazy to go look it up.

I suppose I do not understand NCLB at all. I think it is a great idea. It (along with increasing AIDS funding in Africa) might be the only two things GWB has ever gotten right.

The idea is simply to measure the performance of each child and collect that information. The bugbears are in the details (how to measure performance, what to do once we have measured it), but the central idea is simple.

The education establishment is well-entrenched and insular. Teachers’ unions, boards of educations and even individual teachers often have a conflict on interest with the important goal of education. They hate NCLB. That is darn near a reason to support it.

NCLB records their screw-ups and (potentially) makes them responsible for doing their jobs.

Everyone thinks its a good idea. It IS a good idea. The AFT and the NEA think it’s a good idea. It’s just that the “bugbear” is a big one. The actual formation and implementation of the policies and procedures is hurting students and schools, not helping them.

For those who want to learn more about the act, start at wikipedia.

Then check out the AFTand NEA’s recommendations to keep the “standards and accountability” parts but make the whole thing work with, not against, educators.

No, it takes away the two things they need to do their jobs: money and community support. I’ll be the first to point out that more money doesn’t solve educational problems, but less money doesn’t help, either. Less money means less breadth of education and more teaching to the test. What it* doesn’t* mean, overwhelmingly, is firing incompetent teachers and administrators. There aren’t enough qualified people willing to take their jobs.

NCLB says, “If your school sucks, fix it! We don’t care how, just fix it - oh, but you can’t have the money you’ve worked into your budget for the last 20 years until you fix it. And don’t ask us how to fix it, just…look it up, or something. And make sure it’s scientific and well funded research.” And AFT and NEA are saying, “Sure, we’d love to fix it! Can you maybe put some of that money we’re not getting into research and give us ideas for *how *to fix it?”

Is “no child left behind” a fatally flawed concept?


If every child were aligned, and graphed on google maps, equidistant from both “forward” and “behind,” no one would be left to measure the effects.

The fundamental idea behind the implementation of NCLB is to find out which schools need the most help and which ones need the least, and then give help to the schools that need it least, and take it away from the ones that need it most.

Even if we assume that how well the schools are doing is entirely determined by the teachers, so that the teachers who get punished are only the bad ones, what about the students? A student in an underperforming school is already getting left behind (for whatever reason), and with NCLB, that poor student just ends up getting left even further behind.