"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, August 29, 2005

From the Mouths of Babes

Reprinted in its entirety, award-winning essay by Keisha Mitchell, age 16:

The Reality of No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush signed into law in 2002 was intended to reform America’s educational system and promised to be the answer for the nation’s educational gap. I believed it was a winning formula: The ideas and thoughts conveyed in the law had the potential to be the perfect program for America’s schools, and students.

The law promised to ensure the same education for children from low-income families attending public schools that children in private and parochial schools receive. NCLB is filled with rhetoric stressing the importance of having highly qualified teachers, encouraging and nurturing literacy in children, allowing parents to have choice in which school their child goes to, and holding schools accountable for the educational outcome of its students. The law promised adequate funding to achieve these goals.

However, being a student attending an urban public school, I’ve witnessed first hand the reality of NCLB, and how it affects public schools and have recognized serious flaws in the law.

To begin with, the NCLB proposes state assessment tests for students to take every year in grades 3-8, and at least once in high school. These are unfair measures of a school’s academic achievement or performance.

In my own school, sometimes a month of critical class time is pushed back in order to prepare for a test, which at most only takes five days to complete. These state assessments are misleading because all a test can show is how well a student can take a test and how well the teacher was able to prepare a student to do so. Tests do not show the breadth of what a student was able to learn. I believe that when a school places so much emphasis on standardized tests, valuable teaching time that could be used to learn is wasted, preparing for the test.

Furthermore, schools and teachers are given an unrealistic timeline to fix their alleged “mistakes” if a school is not able to meet the standard annual yearly progress (AYP) within two years. By the law, if a school cannot perform up to AYP standards in four years it faces major teacher layoffs, and budget cuts.

In Indianapolis, where I have attended school since kindergarten, NCLB has seriously affected the IPS district’s funding, and is felt in every classroom, every day. Under the “Freedom to Achieve” program, if a child makes straight A’s, and the parent’s income is above the poverty level, that child is eligible to receive a scholarship to leave a school whose yearly progress does not meet AYP standards. Where does this leave the school?

Because of the “Dollar Follows the Child” philosophy that was adopted by the Indiana House of Representatives, when an academically adept child leaves the public school system, the funding follows him or her and is given to the new school district which the student will be attending. In this scenario, it’s projected that IPS could lose anywhere from $3 to $9 million in funding by 2006: In other words, making a poor school district, poorer.

Did President Bush really have public schools in mind? A public school that is in more cases than not already under funded and possibly under staffed cannot withstand the financial and educational strain of even more funding cuts and teacher layoffs. All of these factors added to the fact that many needed school programs for cultural literacy such as art or music programs are being cut, spell a recipe for disaster for America’s poorer students.

If there was one thing that I would let President Bush know, it would be that when making decisions about the human and civil right to an education on a scale such as the nation’s schools, it might be best to tackle the problem with local state officials. At the grassroots level, lawmakers have better access and information to the individual needs and wants of the state’s parents and students.

By working on educational decisions together, the nation and its future would benefit as a whole.

Keisha Mitchell, 16, lives in Indianapolis, IN.

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