This week, the Center for Education Policy released a report examining the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) four years after implementation. From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act sheds new light on how federal law is reshaping public education in America. With data and survey information from all 50 states, this publication also features in-depth case studies of 38 systems. The Wake County Public School System is one of the sites given a closer look: data show that Wake’s performance, while high, has remained flat since the advent of NCLB.
Nationally, the report found that:
- *Schools increased instructional time for reading and math.
- *Student achievement improved in reading and math.
- *The percentage of sanctioned schools varied little from last year.
- *NCLB affected urban school districts more than other districts.
Clearly, NCLB has caused schools to redouble their efforts to teach reading and math. But at what cost? A recent New York Times article indicates that thousands of schools have dramatically narrowed curricula, meaning less time for subjects like science, history, and art. Low-performing students are hit the hardest, with some spending their days doing nothing but reading, math, and gym.
Unfortunately, “teaching to the test” is old news for North Carolinians. Since 1996, our ABCs accountability program has focused exclusively on reading comprehension, math, and writing through eighth grade. Because of this, subjects like science have fallen by the wayside. An overview of science education at the March State Board of Education meeting revealed that 11 percent of North Carolina elementary school teachers did not teach science at all, while another 16 percent taught science less than once a month. And fewer high school students take chemistry and physics, while more pursue advanced math classes. It should come as no surprise, then, that almost 40 percent of North Carolina high school students are not proficient in biology.
Robert Sweet, former President of the Right to Read Foundation, believes our past attempts to improve literacy have been misguided. In Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice? he writes: “It is time we begin to move away from ‘what’s new’ and move toward ‘what works.’”
Here’s what’s new: expecting children to retain a zest for learning with a sterile and monotonous curriculum. Here’s what works: spending lots of time on the basics, but in the context of a rich and varied curriculum. The solution to students not grasping basic skills lies in teaching differently, not using the same methods an excessive amount of time.
In our quest to raise proficiency standards, we must not forget the obvious – educating the young is about a whole lot more than just learning the answers to a test.
To learn more about recent research and the latest education news, visit the Alliance online at www.nceducationalliance.org. Check out the “Headlines” section of our home page, updated daily with articles from every major newspaper in the state. At the Alliance, we are committed to keeping you informed and empowered as we join together to improve education for the children of North Carolina.