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No Child Left Behind: Positives and negatives

November 01, 2008

To the editor:

One of the questions most asked of school board candidates is, "What is your opinion of the No Child Left Behind legislation?" My experience as both a former teacher and a former school board member allows me to see both the positive and negative realities of this federal legislation.

On the positive side, educators can no longer ignore or "write off" those students who were previously referred to as "unmotivated," "slow," or "problem" students because the law requires 100 percent of students, including disadvantaged and special needs students, to reach the proficient or the advanced levels by 2014.

The law has forced constant analysis of the effectiveness of programs and methods, and the inclusion of interventions that address learning disabilities and teaching weaknesses. Other pluses include the emphasis on professional development to enhance teachers' skills, increased contact with parents, and increased parental involvement.

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On the negative side, the law's mandates have placed tremendous stress on students, teachers and staff. It has also been devastatingly expensive to employ the interventions and specialists needed to address students' varied needs and to meet the legislation's requirements for data collection and analysis, testing, and reporting. In fact, federal funding of the program addresses only about one-tenth the additional cost of the mandates (Rockland Education Collaborative, 2006). Increased testing and curricular requirements may be reducing time for activities that develop creativity and exploration. Finally, the punitive nature of the program, which imposes sanctions on "failing" schools, especially hinders those with limited resources and/or high numbers of underperforming students.

The solution depends on major reform to the legislation. Individual improvement rather than benchmark standards should be the evaluative criteria especially for special needs students and those not proficient in English.

Other measures of assessment such as portfolio review, class participation and special projects would benefit those students who, for whatever reason, just do not test well.

Children who are counted in multiple testing subgroups (i.e. low income, Caucasian, learning disabilities) should be counted as a percentage for each category rather than as a full individual in each category. Finally, more federal dollars should be tied to the legislation.

This letter only touches on some of the more obvious issues with the NCLB legislation, but they are issues that the next school board will have to address amidst an uncertain economy.

Jacqueline FischerCandidate for School Board
Clear Spring

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