States can now apply to opt out of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), thanks to a new executive order that President Obama signed last month -- and they're lining up in droves to ditch the program.
It's no wonder almost 30 states have already said they're going to leave NCLB in their dust. In the 10 years since President Bush signed the NCLB Act -- setting rigid but underfunded national standards for public schools -- the program has drawn criticism for countless reasons. A few things come to mind when most of us think of NCLB:
- Mathreadingmathreadingmathreadingmath... - It narrowed the scope of our schools to focus almost solely on math and reading -- two immensely important skills, for sure. But it was at the expense of science, health, history, the arts, and physical education, which are constantly on the chopping block come budget time because they don't help schools meet NCLB standards. Speaking of those standards...
- Teaching to the test - How many times have you heard this phrase in the past decade? NCLB set up a cookie-cutter system of standards that schools were required to meet -- regardless of the makeup of their student body. A third of your students are living below the poverty line? Who cares? (Not NCLB.) Half of your students come from immigrant households? Your child has severe ADHD? So what?! Study up for those standardized tests, kids! If you don't do well, you're a ...
- Failure! - NCLB focused on failure. I'm not one to grade American schools on a pretty little curve, but schools that did not make "adequate yearly progress" were harshly and repeatedly labeled as a failure. Local news headlines across the country have read "Schools Fall Short Again" year after year since '01. In my state of Massachusetts, the cradle of public education and home to many great public schools, 82 percent of schools failed to meet NCLB standards. Hmm... that number seems a little off. You might as well tell kids (and their predominently hard-working teachers) how rotten they did on a Tomatometer. Splat.
Most people hate NCLB. Some will call Obama's abandonment of it a political move to please Americans who think federal government is getting too "big" (wait -- wasn't it Bush's act?). Politics aside, ditching NCLB will probably play out as being the right thing for our kids and our country. States and local school systems -- who know their kids best -- will gain some control again. Hopefully, education won't become "easier" but will take a more well-rounded approach, complete with some life skills and not just exam answers kids will check at the door.
What would you write in NCLB's obituary?