The New No Child Left Behind Act – Will we Get a New Deal?

So, here is President Obama, with sweeping new plans for the nation’s education system; and item number one on the list? President Bush’s No Child Left Behind act, of course. The new plans seem to have their heart in the right place, and Congress is going to be debating huge changes to the education law.

The No Child Left Behind act right now, requires every one of the nearly hundred thousand public schools around the year to be making yearly progress in test scores. If there are students who don’t get those minimum test scores, the schools must give them additional classes, or offer them a chance to transfer to another school.

If the school is regularly unable to do much for a student, the teachers responsible will be dismissed, and that school will be closed. The government never gave them much time to do all this either – everyone has heard of the 2014 deadline by which every child in America must be literate to a certain minimum degree.

The 2014 deadline has been especially hated. President Bush’s new rules went and gave so many schools an F, but never gave anyone a chance to improve, or gave them the means to do that. President Obama is getting rid of the 2014 deadline for starters; and then they will be looking at how they finance all the schools.

It used to be that any district would get an amount of money from the budget depending on how many students they had in that district. Now, they’re going to be giving money to the 14,000 school districts around the country, depending on how well they do, how much improvement they can show in their students test scores.

But perhaps measuring everything by a test score is itself a big problem. The way children are taught and tested in schools today, has nothing at all to do with what our common sense tells us is right, and what the scientists tell us is the way to teach children.

That the No Child Left Behind act is being reconsidered now is the best opportunity we have of trying to get it right all over again. Everyone knows, for example, that if you are asked to sit down and write an essay (or a report, if you work for a company), you’re just going to balk at the idea. Your report or essay ends up looking stiff, and filled with facts to put out an impression of a real message.

You just need to be able to care about what you’re writing. If children could be asked to write about things that they actually cared about, not just one or two topics headed out to the whole class, and if they did it just to feel good, not degraded, things would go so much better.

One of the most basic things that the scientists tell us is, that children don’t learn to write by being forced to repeat the alphabet over and over again. All you need to do is to talk to the children and help them turn ideas over in their minds and describe things.

This is what, they say, helps children build and hold ideas in their heads. Once they are able to do this, they will actually feel the need to write to communicate, and they will be able to understand the whole concept of writing too. Just asking them to write and repeat the alphabet until their heads go numb, is no way to do things. This is the kind of thing that the No Child Left Behind act is in a great position to reconsider. But if only they would.