Please tell me about how No Child Left Behind has negatively impacted students!
One of the biggest ways is the emphasis on standardized testing! The intention’s not terrible at first glance- like, on one hand, it seems like a good idea to have standards that our students should be held to, that kinda puts everyone on an equal playing field, etc. But the implementation has screwed things up royally. Basically, it asks students to be familiar with standards, but not master skills, tasks, or concepts. This means that the teachers are basically backed into the corner of teaching the test- there’s frequent test drills that leave no time for creative work. It also means that all students are judged on the same standards- the problem here being that many students aren’t at grade level when it comes to reading comprehension, math skills, etc. They haven’t had the time to master these skills because the teacher’s been obligated to teach the test! They haven’t gotten to work on critical thought, writing, reading for enjoyment- they just get to see that the only measure of academic success is their raw test scores. So students who are struggling are held to the same standards as the honors students- everybody is expected to compete at the highest level. It favors one type of learner over all the others, and it often comes at the expense of the youngest children’s biological needs. Little kids aren’t supposed to sit at a desk all day- they need to run and play and get physical activity so that their bodies develop and they learn how to use their muscles! Students who are allowed to take breaks and play learn not just academic curricula but also social skills, which is a super important part of elementary school. But in elementary schools across the country, we see recess being cut. Funding for these schools is partially based on these test scores, so schools that are struggling often end up struggling more. Alternatives have been proposed to varying degrees of success, but so far it looks like our public schools are only going to get worse and worse- essentially, high stakes testing is pulling up the root to see how your plant is growing.
NCLB- particularly its prevalence of standardized tests- is also ableist and classist/racist by nature. Students with learning disabilities often have a very hard time with the standardized test format. So do students with physical disabilities- the scantron format is only friendly to those students who can sit for long periods of time and perform repetitive wrist/hand motions. While educational accommodations do exist, the fact is that many students do not get them. This is especially true of under-funded inner city schools and under-funded rural districts! The racial element of NCLB has been explored in great detail- basically, it favors the kind of information that your average middle class white student would know and have grown up hearing. It assumes a reading level that many students do not have- students whose first language isn’t English, for example. And because of that “familiarity, not mastery” thing, these students often don’t have a chance to catch up. Education isn’t a one size fits all thing, and the way elementary, middle, and high schools are managed has a massive impact on how college (what I teach) works. College can be a great thing- it can be a step up- but it can also drag you down. By being thrown from a system that just “teaches the test” into one that demands creative skills and critical thought, students who weren’t lucky enough to go to a really good public school (or a private school) are basically shoved off a high dive into what can turn into a literal ocean of debt.
Now, NCLB has many, many more problems than that- people who actually study education and the politics of teaching can certainly tell you more than me! But this is how I see it as a college instructor- NCLB has created a generation of young scholars who don’t see learning as a process of exploration- rather, they basically just see it as highly punitive factory work.