The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, passed January 8, 2002 by President Bush’s administration, addresses educational reform. The law reflects four educational reform principles promoted by our President: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control (by states and local governments), expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work [Natriello p.2]. The reality of NCLB is that it acts as a smokescreen, designed to make people believe that the Bush administration has the educational systems’ best interests at heart and intends to limit the federal government’s control of our public schools. The true agenda of NCLB is to slyly gut the educational system of its remaining revenue and divert public tax dollars to other Bush agendas, all the while dipping federal government hands into the fates of schools nationwide.

The 2004 education budget presented by Bush’s administration requested $5 billion less in education spending for the first year then what was authorized by the NCLB act. Further, this budget is $100 million short of the 2003 budget and comes as the lowest increase in eight years. This poses the ultimate blow to the educational system. Chopping an already starved budget gives schools little hope to accommodate increasing numbers of school children or educational costs. It also diminishes the chances of “failing” schools obtaining promised funding entitlements under NCLB. Other blows to educational funding come from inaccurately publicized increases to special education spending, slashed funding to the Military Impact Aid (MIA) and from school vouchers designed for “school choice” programs.

One seeming advantage of NCLB is that it grants a $1 billion increase for special education funding; however, this funding came from the elimination of forty-six separate programs that previously cost the government $1.5 billion. This is $6 billion less then what the President promised as part of the NCLB. Consequently, the special education funding that goes into the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is still largely under-funded. At the rate of the increase allotment from Bush’s education proposals, it will never be fully funded [PMCT p.2]. Further, according to the Congressional Research Service, “A first grader who was in school when IDEA was first passed in 1975, will be 69 years old by the time the Bush Administration’s rate of increase would even come close to fully funding special education” [PMCT p.3]. Lastly, the budget also eliminates funding for Perkins loan programs, which support disadvantaged students.

MIA will no longer compensate school districts with large populations of school children whose parents work at military bases or other federal installations [Martin p.2]. These parents are exempt from local property taxes, the primary source of school funding. It will, however, still provide funding to school districts if the parents live in military bases, but not for those who live off-base. Overall, the total deduction in funding is sixty percent to MIA, since the number of children living off-base nearly doubles those living on-base.

Entitled under Bush’s education budget are government funds called “school vouchers” which appear to promote parental choice provisions in NCLB. However, the real motive behind the availability of these funds is ultimately to promote private schools. The reason to promote private schools is simple: they are privately funded. If you can successfully discredit public education and shut down schools, forcing children to relocate to other districts or private schools, then the price for education is paid by the parents and not by the government. The two school vouchers, a grant program and a tax initiative, are specifically geared for private school programs. The irony of these vouchers is that they will drain over $300 million from the public education budget to fund them. So while paying for these vouchers, public schools have to earn their funding by passing testing guidelines under NCLB. Meanwhile, private schools are completely exempt from testing guidelines.

NCLB enforces accountability standards for successfully instructing our nation’s children, lest they face the loss of federal funding. NCLB measures teaching success through mandated testing on reading and math proficiency for certain grades in all public schools nationwide. If a school meets NCLB scoring requirements, then it will continue to receive qualified federal funding and will continue to operate on the local level. Schools that do not meet test scores or show year-to-year improvement in test scores for each of five racial and ethnic groups, as well as for low-income students, those with limited English fluency, or learning disabilities, are classified as “low-performing” or “failed” schools [Martin p.2]. The fate of the latter is severe. NCLB requires that the school allow students to hire tutors, transfer to another school, face state takeover or be shut down. In the meantime, NCLB forces schools to divert money from their own budgets to develop or obtain tests that will (hopefully) meet NCLB requirements. Federal funding is not guaranteed for schools that meet NCLB requirements or show marked improvements in year-trends. The end result: the Federal government can decide the fate of public schools based on results of tests and then turn their backs on those failing to meet their criteria.

The testing issues wrought from the NCLB are significant. First, reading and math tests are administered via multiple-choice tests versus problem-solving tests that generate new knowledge, formulate ideas, or stymie complex thinking. Furthermore, though NCLB does require that sciences be incorporated into tests by the year 2006, it fails to make room for social studies, second languages, art or music, which are increasingly left behind in curricula as a result of the emphasis on passing mandated test subjects. Secondly, NCLB does not include its own standardized tests for schools to administer – the schools are forced to shell out money to obtain them from testing industry giants such as Harcourt General, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin and others. Further, this expense balloons for struggling schools that are forced by the NCLB to seek assistance in formulating their curricula and providing necessary assistance to students. Lastly, it is important to argue Bush’s principle that testing is a “proven teaching method” in improving student learning. If this were true, then it could be plausible to expect states that have high test scores on the NCLB tests to also have rising scores on other national tests. Apparently, this is a false presumption. In a four-year study by the University of Arizona on the impact of high-stakes testing in eighteen states, scores did not rise for other national tests such as SAT, ACT, NAEP, or AP [Univ. of Minnesota p.1]. Lastly, a saddening effect of NCLB’s testing assessments is that it has been reported that some talented teachers have become frustrated with the tests and left the profession. Meanwhile, students who have been unable to succeed in their scores have dropped out.

Upon implementation, NCLB was announced to the public amidst a sea of propaganda touting its values for forcing stronger accountability upon schools and teachers, increasing flexibility and local control, expanding options for parents, and enforcing tried-and-true methods of teaching. However, NCLB is saturated with hidden federal government agendas, particularly those of George W. Bush, none of which benefit public education. On the contrary, NCLB succeeds only in granting the federal government more power over public education and saddling the states with a majority of the monetary educational obligations. First, NCLB provides more detailed federal control over state funding and does not promise funding to schools that “pass” NCLB guidelines. Second, it enables the federal government to force states to administrate and fund schools that fail federal standards without customary federal aid or guidance. Next, NCLB withdrew existing public education funding to create so-called “school vouchers” to subsidize private schooling or tutoring as the only real options for parents with children in “failing schools”. Lastly, NCLB undermines the growth of our children by forcing more high-stakes national tests that are depriving them from concentrating on a wider range of subjects. NCLB succeeds beyond anyone’s expectations in this respect – narrowing educational curricula out of sheer necessity to stay afloat in the system as it currently stands.

This piece of legislation seems to have failed to meet any of the principles that the Bush administration claimed it embodied. In fact, it ensures that state taxes will rise while the federal government diverts the federal education budget funds toward other agendas. States will have to look to slash or match school programs and budgets to keep public education afloat. Meanwhile, the federal government does little or nothing to help. NCLB is a monster bent on devouring the remaining opportunities for our nation’s children to obtain a well-rounded education previously guaranteed them. In sum, this proves that the Bush administration does not have the educational systems’ best interests at heart, nor do they intend to get the federal government out of control of our public schools.

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