Illustration by Cody Angell
After a year in office, the Bush Administration set forth a bill to aid the education system, world-renowned for its mediocrity. The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law Jan. 8, is a substantial rewrite of to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The backbone of the act is to establish a way of keeping track of each child's education by mandating that states test all students attending third through eighth grade in reading and math skills beginning in the 2004-2005 school year. The exams will be used to identify failing schools.
Congress will appropriate $26.5 billion in federal spending on education. The only catch is that for schools that do not improve within two years, the act will enable parents to transfer their children to other public schools or be given funds to pay for tutors or other supplemental instruction. Within four years, all teachers must also be qualified to teach in their subject area, and there will be staff changes in schools with no improvement over six years.
"The fundamental principle of this bill is that every child can learn. We expect every child to learn, and you must show us whether or not every child is learning," Bush said before signing the bill.
Some consider the act controversial. Some Democrats worry that there will not be enough funds to help poorly performing schools get back on their feet and that teachers deserve more pay. For many conservatives, the bill only lacked a consideration of school vouchers.
It can be agreed that the public schools need help, but is the No Child Left Behind Act the best path to take?
F Stands for Drop Out
The president got his wish when the No Child Left Behind Act passed. Many have argued that besides other major flaws, a more appropriate title should have been given to the new education act. Below are a few suggestions:
"Try It and Dump It Act" could be an appropriate title. Under the new law, parents who aren't happy with their child's performance can up and leave with their child in tow. Your kid hits some brat on the playground? Switch schools!
"Teach to The Test Act" or "Aim to Do Better Act" are other excellent title suggestions. Teachers, under this new law, will be controlled by a test that their kids must regularly pass. Poetry? Music? Language? No longer important. Every lesson plan must revolve around the test. And the kids should know it too. Start them early on nicotine and late nights in coffee shops. After 50 elementary school tests, the MCATS will be a breeze.
And, last but not least, comes the best title of all: "Leave No Child Behind · Unless They're in a Minority Or Poor." In Texas, this same act caused dropout rates to soar, especially among Hispanics and blacks.
Now that it's passed, the best title should be, "Surviving American Education Act."
Laura Winsky is a senior majoring in Spanish and political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Underprivileged kids will be left behind
President Bush was right to shift the national focus back to pressing domestic issues now that the international scene has cooled. However, the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the eventual result of Bush's switch to the domestic front, is not something meriting much applause.
While the bill's intentions may have been good, the result means more requirements for states and local school districts with very little additional funding. The poorest school districts will not magically produce better test scores simply because the federal government requires them to.
This bill will serve to cripple some of the poorest schools by allowing parents to choose other schools where they believe their children will receive a better education. I don't blame parents for wanting the best for their children. Some involved parents may see improvement for their children when they move them to new schools. Nonetheless, the policy of allowing parents to move good students out of failing schools will serve only to nail the coffin for such schools and will hinder much-needed improvement.
The writers of this bill assume that some schools, and some children, will fail no matter what. America can do better than that.
Kendrick Wilson is a political science freshman. He can be reached at email@example.com
Operation mediocre idea
Nice title. No Child Left Behind. It conjures up the image of a war zone with evacuating helicopters, dangling strings of smiling children. Sadly, politicians with unrealistic expectations and skewed outlooks don't make the best rescue pilots.
The idea is to treat the public school system like a business. A failing school receives funds to encourage improvement. If it doesn't improve within two years, the struggling school loses funding and its students are given incentives to seek out an education elsewhere. Simple competition. It works beautifully in business, but this is education.
Successful schools get more funding and · more students? Doesn't the quality of education go down as class sizes rise? And how are students shuffled freely between already severely overcrowded schools? Furthermore, how does withholding money and draining away the most committed students improve a failing school?
The bill calls it incentive and accountability. In this utopian academic marketplace, flat standards and dollar bills motivate miraculous turnarounds. Even the most dysfunctional schools and families learn to produce competent, literate students.
Realistically, applying a competitive model to education will elevate few schools while driving the most disadvantaged schools in the worst neighborhoods deeper into the ground.
Daniel Cucher is a creative writing senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Different is good
The American public education system has been in sorry shape for far too long, and Bush didn't waste much time in implementing some new ideas. These include encouraging increased parental involvement and control in their children's academic lives, requiring higher qualifications for teachers, and giving poor schools the ultimatum of "do better, or else." This can only be good.
While the president needs to realize that more blind federal funding to public schools hasn't solved anything, he is, to his credit, using a great deal of the $26.5 billion he has allocated in some new, innovative areas, like allowing parents to place their students in schools that perform better and offering tutoring and additional academic aid to students in below-average schools. "We have given new tools of reform to teachers and principals, local and state officials and parents," Bush said. And he's right.
Those opposed to these ideas for one reason or another need to chill for a while and see if these new policies help improve our public schools. At this point, our children have little to lose. Anything different is good.
Shane Dale is a political science junior. He can be reached at email@example.com
Education bill falls short
I was all set to give Bush the benefit of the doubt this time. After all, he seems to genuinely care about our education system, and the fact that the No Child Left Behind Act was sponsored by members of both major political parties was at first reassuring. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, the new bill falls short of responsible policy.
It gives students at poorly performing schools the option of switching to another public school of their choosing. While the risk of losing students may induce schools to better educate them, it presents a heavy burden for successful schools that might be inundated with ill-prepared students. In that case, all the bill would accomplish would be to make our schools uniformly mediocre.
What inadequate schools really require is simply more funding - and lots of it. In particular, more money for teachers' salaries is sorely needed. Unfortunately, the new bill is more about increasing federal control than increasing funding. It mandates further local standardized testing, which only consumes precious school days. Even worse, there is no research to support the commonly held belief that increased testing benefits students.
If the federal government truly wants to be accountable to students, it should stop overstepping its bounds and raise the standard of education everywhere rather than just penalizing those schools that can't keep up.
Caitlin Hall is a biochemistry and philosophy junior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A political compromise act?
"Are you a Republican or a Democrat?" Um · well · I don't really know. But what does that have to do with the new No Child Left Behind Act? Good question. As I was researching this bill, I came across a variety of reasons why it has become so significant. The issue of political parties was pretty important after the Sept.11 attack, but the legislation for stimulating the economy created trouble.
The Republicans want one thing and the Democrats quite another. So Bush and Sen. Kennedy went on a three-state tour to promote the bill as well as lavish praise on each other. Still, it seems that I am raving about nothing. But hey, wait a minute, it seems that the actual educators are not too much in favor of this 1,084-page plan. The plan doesn't provide the large increases in funding for certain necessary programs, including the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which leaves schools to pick up the estimated $50 to $60 billion cost. The extra testing for students and requirement that every public school teacher be certified by 2005 was said to be "an impossible task" by some superintendents.
It seems that there are more mandates than actual money being given out, which leads to the question: Is this bill really for the children? Or, is it to help create some peace between the political parties before a massive political disturbance due to the economic stimulus package?
Mariam Durrani is a systems engineering junior. She can be reached at email@example.com