Out of the several issues President Obama will have to tackle these next few years, renewing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law will be one of the toughest. One would think that a piece of legislation that Senator Kennedy pushed through Congress, and was signed by President George W. Bush, that in this new bipartisan era it wouldn't have much problem getting through. But then again, the first vote to be taken in this new Congress is the "job-killing" repeal of the health care law.
The biggest problem President Obama will have trying to re-authorize NCLB will be that both Democrats and Republicans have issues with it, and some are legitimate. When the law was first enacted funding for NCLB was non-existent. States that were trying to implement its policies were unable because there was not enough money in the federal budget. This lead to the second problem: in order to qualify for what little funding there was, states had to device a way which would assess schools. The law never said that standardized tests had to be implemented, but it was the cheapest way to qualify for the federal money.
Since Arne Duncan took over the Department of Education, he devised a new way for states to compete called Race to the Top. The difference here was States had more standards to meet. Yes students still had to take tests, but more charter schools had to be created, and assessments had to be submitted. But in every race there's always a loser. While most states changed their education system in order compete for the millions of dollars being dangled in front of them, most states did not receive any money, or not as much money as they thought they would or should get. When the second round came up, the states that got shunned threatened not to participate and derail Obama and Duncan's image of how schools should be run.
I have no problem with using money to get what you want. It's done all the time. Whether it is to stop people from drinking and driving, regulate pollution in streams and rivers, or building new wind turbines for energy, this is how our current government works and has for a long time. The problem I do have with this policy is that it won't help children learn.
Making students take tests won't get students to understand what they are being tested on. Where Secretary Duncan and school Superintendents around the country should focus its efforts, is figuring out the best methods to teach teachers how to teach, and the best practices that enable students to learn. Then, incentives can be given to states based on what we know works, instead of assuming a one shoe fits all approach. Which brings me to my second point.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been studying which teaching practices work best. One of the key findings is that smaller classrooms produce better outcomes for students. Reason being; the teacher is able to give those students the attention they need. But if you're going to give more money to states to hire more teachers and build more schools, you have to make sure the teachers being hired actually know how to teach. The Gates Foundation is looking at what the best teachers are doing now, so teachers of the future can learn from them.
One of the recommendations by the Gates Foundation is to take the students that are seriously struggling and put them into other areas where they can get the help they need. They are not specific on which students they are, only that the students who will be moved should be based on the criteria they develop. But let's assume the students that are moved have learning disabilities.
In the past, I have written about learning disabilities, and while the research being done will indirectly help teachers teach these students, it is still not an issue that is being dealt with. Even the best teachers will have to adjust their methods so the student with a disability can properly learn the material. But shifting them to another room is not the answer. As long as they are willing to work hard, students with disabilities can be in the same classroom as his or her peers, but putting them in another room will only make them feel as if they are below everyone else.
There is no reason why Congress needs to politicize this issue. When NCLB was first enacted in 2001, there were obviously aspects of the bill both liberals and conservatives liked, otherwise, it would not have passed. In the State of the Union Address, President Obama should talk about the success this bill has had since it was first enacted and how it is a way to enact changes to a system that desperately needs it.
Many more studies need to be conducted, and this post does not even begin to scratch the surface of what is wrong with our education system. But once there is a compilation of methods that are proven to effectively teach students, incentives should be given to states to teach, and teach those policies to its teachers.