A Teacher’s Perspective: No Child Left Behind

In spite of President Obama’s conservative fiscal policy, he has requested from Congress another $4 billion to fix the No Child Left Behind Act before school year 2011-2012. Under its present version based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, schools are focusing on measuring the number of students who are proficient at each grade level. Obama’s plan calls on schools to measure each student’s academic growth, regardless of his initial performance level. This is but one example of the attempt to revamp a program which forced school personnel to accomplish its goals without the necessary resources.

The following summary of President Obama’s plan includes my insights which I hope would move the plan forward successfully.

One Clear Goal: All Students Graduate College and Career Ready

Already, work is underway in 44 states to replace multiple-choice standardized tests which lead teachers to teach-for-the-test, ignoring the basics of education which students require for success. Under the old system, one in three schools were labeled as failures. The newer standards are designed to prepare students for college and careers so that they will not be required to take remedial courses as freshmen. A concerted effort to aid the lowest-performing schools is applauded by educators as a whole. It appears that the Obama planners listened to educators on the front lines of education.

A Great Teacher In Every Classroom and A Great Principal In Every School

Buffalo, New York has announced that it plans to set aside its long-time law that teachers in Buffalo must reside in Buffalo. This practice narrowed the pool of excellent teachers. Hiring standards had to be lowered, teachers were often of poor quality and ultimately, the students have suffered. Bold reforms such as this one in Buffalo will insure that each student receives the best education possible. One caveat should be noted: The President’s plan agrees with the movement afoot to determine and reward teacher effectiveness through pupils test scores. The temptation to let politics determine which teachers are assigned to brighter students weakens this plan and causes unrest among teachers.

Fostering Innovation and Focusing on Results

While the President’s plan to invest more money into our public schools is a worthy initiative, it has been proven that pouring money into classrooms has often proved futile. The problem lies in the misdirection of funds. If funds are aimed at improving teacher and administrative salaries or on capital improvements, they do not necessarily aid the student. One innovation which has proven most effective is lowering class size. If funds are directed to increasing faculty size, it gives each teacher a greater opportunity to concentrate on each student in his class.

A 21st Century Education for Every Student

President Obama’s suggestion to increase local control to pursue solutions based on local circumstances should quiet those who fear that an increased federal role in education would be harmful. While his plan asks for more engagement of parents in their children’s education, I would offer one objection. Some private schools are asking parents not to help their children with homework. The rationale behind this seemingly radical request is that the child’s homework reveals the student’s weaknesses to the teacher who can then address the child’s needs. Masking these weaknesses through the parent’s input confounds the teacher’s job.

Overall, President Obama is making a positive contribution to education through his revamping of No Child Left Behind.