West Chester University touts one of the most prestigious education departments in the state, and sends many teachers into the work force each year.Earlier this month, the Obama administration released its blueprint for overhauling the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (abbreviated NCLB), which many detractors suggest takes teachers in some districts unreasonably to task at the detriment of the students.
In a poll conducted on campus at West Chester, 16 out of 20 students on average had little, if any knowledge, as to the burdens thrust onto teachers by NCLB.
“If I was entering the K-12 classroom today, I would do a lot of homework on the district where I was interviewing as we are hearing more and more about punitive actions directed towards teachers that do not have their students reaching certain levels academically,” said Dr. Vicki A. McGinley of West Chester’s department of special education.
This is of note to education majors, especially in the wake of a school in Rhode Island’s decision to fire all of its teachers earlier this month. It seems that now more than ever potential teachers should become familiar with the inherent problems and consequences of NCLB, and the proposed changes thereof.
The Obama administration’s proposal suggests many changes to NCLB including its very moniker. However, one glaring component will remain, and that is the use of standardized test scores in reading and math to evaluate student (and teacher) proficiency.
The primary issue of contention with these tests is that they don’t take into account students who speak English as a second language, and/or who come from poverty stricken homes. As such they fail to measure how far these types of students progress in a given year.
“Most of my students have made a great deal of progress this year, but are still considered ‘intensive’ by the standardized test,” said North Philadelphia Kindergarten teacher Caitlin Allen.
“NCLB does not look at the improvement rate of schools. Even if a school has improved math and reading scores exponentially, the school is still considered failing if it has not met ‘adequate yearly progress’ standards,” Allen said.
This is being addressed in the blueprint for change. Instead of labeling schools as simply failing, the new system will offer a multi-tiered system that would identify struggling schools in each state and posit different remedies for each tier.
Another problem with standardized testing is that teachers are forced to essentially teach the test in order to reach “adequate yearly progress” standards. Thus, other areas of study such as art, music and physical education are neglected.
This is an area of concern being addressed by the Obama administration’s proposed overhaul as well. In it, schools would be able to include student performance in subjects other than math and reading as part of their overall measurement of progress. This is in an effort to have students “college and career ready.”
Also in the proposal, more federal funding will be switched from formula based allocations to competitive grants. However, this incentive based program of education has its problems as well.
A second grade teacher from Chester says, “The reward system is problematic because there are certain situations in which principals may not take on a special needs kid because they don’t want the adequate yearly progress of their school to diminish.”
Another major change is that the goal for complete student adeptness would be pushed back from the now unachievable 2014 to the year 2020.
The proposed blueprint for education reform maintains a focus on effective teachers and principals calling on states and districts to develop systems for evaluating and supporting these individuals, based on student growth and other factors. The plan also calls for a new program that would support efforts to recruit, place, reward, retain, and promote effective teachers and principals to enhance the teaching profession.
So for future teachers and young students there might still be light at the end of the tunnel.
Joshua Vaughan is a student attending West Chester University.