Image CreditHas No Child Left Behind been successful?
Step 3 of 5
- Yes? But have you considered...
- No? But have you considered...
… that few students are really getting the chance to take advantage of the alternatives promised by NCLB?
New options for low-income kids stuck in failing schools were supposed to be part of the NCLB package, but in many communities these choices haven’t materialized. As for the law’s offer to transfer students to a better-performing school if their current one is failing, a mere 1 percent to 2 percent of eligible students are doing so, primarily because the better-performing schools are already overcrowded, operating at capacity. In many cases, students jumped ship for schools that were no better than where they started. If “market competition” was a cornerstone of NCLB, it’s not working out very well.
Also, only 25 percent of eligible students are taking advantage of the NCLB’s free tutoring program. It might be easy to blame a child — after all, few students volunteer to spend extra hours after school. But actually, school districts aren’t doing a good job getting the word out to parents about these options, and in some cases, school districts are actually making it hard for students to participate, leaving millions of needy kids behind. In Kansas, students didn’t have a way to get home if they missed a regular school bus or had to get to an off-site clinic where the state held some of their tutoring programs. Moreover, some studies show that even those who do get tutoring are showing negligible improvement.
In addition, there just aren’t enough good charter schools to go around. The “paper tiger” threat of closing bad schools — and in their wake, opening charter schools — is not happening. The law promises accountability, with schools failing for five years in a row facing major restructuring and the threat of eventual closure, but states typically first try to work with existing schools and improve what’s already there. Why? Because schools lose federal funding for each child that leaves, which increases the potential for their falling even further behind — which just perpetuates a vicious cycle.
… that forcing failing schools to make substantial changes — including shutting them down — can help build schools that work?
Proponents of NCLB argue that healthy market competition is key to improving our schools. If a school continues to graduate students that don’t have proper skills, why should that institution be allowed to continue on its current path? Why shouldn’t the failure of some schools pave the way for better ones?
Just as one failing grade for a student shouldn’t doom his or her educational future, one bad test score shouldn’t shutter a school. But advocates of the NCLB want the freedom to close schools that continue to fail and remove staff who aren’t willing or aren’t able to make the adjustments needed in order for children to learn.
Closing poorly performing schools in effect protects students from bad public investments. “[Students] can’t come into a city council meeting and get [their] parents’ money back for that year,” Washington, D.C.’s school chancellor Michelle Rhee told Congress this year, in partial explanation of her decision to shut down 23 of the district’s schools.
Nationwide, few schools have been shuttered as a result of NCLB, but there are sites at which staff, including principals, are being shown the door. And there are others that are being morphed into charter schools — which are showing better achievement scores in traditionally poor-performing areas.
Consider the Village Academies charter school in New York City’s Harlem, where 100 percent of the eighth-graders passed the state math test this year, a first for that area. It’s certainly a sign that for some failing students, changing schools or making meaningful changes to an existing school can make all the difference. Maybe NCLB makes real the American public education dream: All students, given the right environment and the proper tools, can learn.
Step 3 of 5