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Makeover Needed for No Child Left Behind

Makeover Needed for No Child Left Behind
Congress should allocate necessary funding to carry out mandate.

The 110th U.S. Congress, which convened this month, needs to bring a complete makeover of the No Child Left Behind Act to the top of its agenda. This highly acclaimed law has the delusive appearance of being the “cure all” for public schools. Champions of NCLB strongly purport that it will improve the performance of students in elementary, middle and high schools. Supporters also claim that the law will improve accountability standards in school districts and allow parents to choose which schools their children will attend. However, it appears to be a colossal myth that “no child is left behind.” In fact, many children every day are being left behind and left out.

What’s wrong with No Child Left Behind? Among other things, the law has not been fully funded as promised. Numerous schools are facing escalating penalties and are being denied the necessary resources to remedy their problems.

States are required to distribute report cards on the performance of school districts. The law requires each school to show annual progress on standardized tests, and every racial group must also show improvement. If a subgroup fails to show adequate yearly progress, the entire school is labeled as failing, as are schools with low graduation rates. As a result, many schools manipulate the figures or pressure students, mainly Blacks and Hispanics, to leave school to improve the school’s statistical profile.

Many minority parents are extremely frustrated because of this law. Third-graders are being held back after failing a specific standardized test, which demoralizes the student and the parent.

Only Congress can fix the mess it created. If NCLB is here to stay, Congress should allocate the funding needed to carry out its mandates. Flexibility also should be built into the system of accountability, which would allow poor urban and rural schools to meet the unique needs of their students.

Congress would be well served by listening to the input of the National Association of Social Workers. This organization can help eliminate many of NCLB’s flaws by providing school social workers in every K-12 school. These specialized social workers do an excellent job providing interventions and services to children and families at risk of educational failure. But in Albany, Ga., for example, the Dougherty County Public School System has 27 public schools but only three school social workers.

NCLB also should focus on how to get more parents involved in the schools.

No matter how hard schools work to improve student education, much of the battle is lost if parents are apathetic and uninvolved.

The voucher system is another area that needs to be completely overhauled.

The schools that are failing should not be forced to spend money to send their brilliant students to other schools when they should be using their limited resources to improve their own schools.

Further, the law must de-emphasize national standardized testing. The cultural bias aspects of these tests are wreaking havoc on many minority students. And with the current overemphasis, some teachers are busy teaching the test and little else. Also, adequate funding and not “funding on paper” should be provided to struggling schools to create innovative tactics to empower subgroups and elevate their test scores.

On paper, the rhetoric-loaded NCLB seems spectacular. In real life, however, this law is long overdue for a makeover. Congress is duty-bound to fix it because when America fails to deliver excellence in education, it only perpetuates the national cycle of poverty.

— Dr. Maxine Myers Agazie is a professor of social work at Albany State University.

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