Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Rotten Remnants of the "No Child Left Behind" Public-School Federal Policy ...

With our new school year starting soon, and my husband working for the schools, with new policies being implemented, as well as political  polarizations both externally and internally affecting these things, I'm in reflective and re-evaluative mode about our educational system overall.

As you may recall, in 2001, Bush the Second pushed for, and Congress approved, a federal policy on public schools called "No Child Left Behind." 

Now, it presented itself as a rewards system -  but it was actually a penal system.

Though there was supposed to be Title I funding for schools with lower-income populations, considering that the overall goal of NCLB was to better financially reward the schools performed well on standardized testing, the bigger money, of course, went to the latter.

In fact, if a school's overall test scores weren't sufficient, the school was placed by state and federal government into corrective action; "In Need of Improvement" and then "Corrective Action" the following years - all of which means they lost money and staff.

The teachers and staff alone were penalized for a school's failure, without considering any other variables or context - and if your school was in "Corrective Action," it meant virtually the entire staff could and would be replaced - even if some students excelled on the tests, or a particular teacher's class excelled on the test.

No gray areas, no context, no disruptions (personal or not, beyond their control or not), no health conditions, and no monkey wrenches were considered. 

As we know, 9/11 happened later that year, and despite hurricanes, tornadoes, mass-shootings, fire, deaths of teachers or students, but none of those things were factored into the equation they had and  thus didn't matter - if the majority of your school didn't meet a certain average on test scores, that year, your school lost funding and staff, and the funding and staff instead went to schools that did - period.  

It was all about those annual test scores on reports and nothing else - no ifs, ands, or buts, black or white, either/or.

Also, though the policy was supposed to offer better training and services, I never once saw that at any school, and I heard parents o' plenty complain about that.

They ended up having to hire private tutors or commercial tutor agencies - and if they couldn't afford that, well, they were SOL.

Now - to be fair to those schools, how can they afford those extra supportive services and training, if they lost money and staff, based solely on the prior year's test scores? 

Also, students could "transfer" to better-test-performing schools within the district,  but there was no provision of how to transport them there, and with several restrictions.

So the result was, as you might imagine, is that teachers began teaching only what was on the last year's standardized test - and nothing else. 

Also, they implemented "spiral" teaching, meaning they'd teach for three weeks on a subject then drop it and move on, revisiting it three weeks later, instead of teaching for mastery or until most of the class had demonstrated mastery of the subject.  

I was so frustrated with this entire policy, I was pulling my hair out as a parent, as were the teachers and staff themselves, who basically had no hair left, by this point lol.

In fact, I remember having this conversation with several of my daughter's teachers a few times, and most weren't happy with spiral teaching themselves.

However, to be honest, because of the strict penalties to them if their students didn't perform well on standardized testing, they seemed almost understandably more concerned about what would happen to them if their students didn't perform well that year that whether the children had grasped the concept - and a couple of them even openly blame the children, out of defensiveness. 

Though I didn't agree with the latter, I also understood, because they could lose their job based on their student's test scores at the end of the year alone -  and defensiveness is human nature.  

Defensiveness is especially high under a policy and/or system that is coming from a perspective of individual or group scapegoating blame, instead of from a perspective of a wrongful policy and/or systemic problem. 

Worst of all, by 2003, they started "portfolios" for children - meaning there were certain items throughout the year that went into their overall portfolio, which a child carried with them throughout their school "career" like a resume.

It sounds great and very grown-up in theory, but here's the problem with that - it wasn't just their best achievements, like what would be on a real-life resume.

If your child had mono and couldn't be there, for a few weeks, and turned in a portfolio item that was not their best, it still followed them around for the rest of not only that year, but their  entire school "career." :(

It quickly became realized that the theory and the practical application of No Child Left Behind were two different things - and was a colossal failure.

In fact,  no one, regardless of their political leanings, was happy with it - and it left school administration and staff, teachers, students AND parents feeling incredibly frustrated and powerless.

By 2015, under the Obama administration, most of the provisions of "No Child Left Behind" had been stripped and were in the process of being reworked and called "Every Child Succeeds," but it wasn't well defined and never fully clearly materialized.  

Then under Trump, nothing was done at all for education, other than efforts to strip funding for public schools in general, in favor of things like giving every American $500 vouchers to promote school choice or home-schooling, which is not enough to either pay parents to stay home and home-school their kids, nor enough to move your  entire family to a supposedly "better" district -  and thus benefits only the wealthy who could already afford to do those things.

It also doesn't address the core problem.  In fact, it's like illogically spending billions of dollars on a giant Band-Aid and placing it on a gushing artery, even though the odds of that actually working are slim to none.  

Kinda like ... building a lame wall around just one land boundary of the United States, in effort to prevent illegal immigration, though we have more boundaries, including water entry?  ;) 

Thankfully, none of these "school choice" efforts gained much traction and were Congressionally approved :)

As a result, we still have the rotten remnants of No Child Left Behind - a plan which still blames only the teachers and staffs (which results in over-defensiveness, in my opinion) and penalizes only them for poor tests performance (now called MAP testing). 

Now, no worries about my daughter - she graduated from college anyway, in 2016 - because she's bright and resilient :)

However, many didn't, as a result :(

Considering all that's happened politically, over the past several years - when are we going to make educating our students to mastery a priority again, rather than basing their entire education on the latest version of last year's standardized test?

Also, when are we going to stop focusing on how to find individual or group scapegoats of blame, rather than looking at  group dynamics as a system and wrongful policy?

A system in which everyone in the group is still held accountable (students, teachers, staff, parents, and the students themselves), but instead of auto-penalizing, one in which we first ask each other: "What happened, and how can we help you? What support services or better training can we help provide, so that you can succeed?"


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