I often hear people say that No Child Left Behind is a noble law that intended to close the achievement gap and hold schools accountable, but that it hasn’t been successful due to a lack of funding. In my personal experience, more funding would have helped immensely, but top-down micromanagement and an over-emphasis on testing, not teaching, were the biggest burdens. Here are some specific examples of how top-down micromanagement and an over-emphasis on testing affected my school:
- No chalkboard space was left in classrooms because we were required to use that space to hang standards and essential questions
- Science and social studies were taken away for the younger grades and replaced with test taking skills for an hour a day. Apparently this is happening at more than just my school. (click here)
- Lesson plans had to be a certain font and size and were on a template given to teachers by the district
- No paper was left in the school; hands-on lessons were viewed as a waste of time, because paperwork more closely resembled the standardized test
This appeared to work for my school because we continued to be one of the top-scoring schools in the state. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were selling our students short by teaching them in such a robotic manner. I also couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if:
- I had used my chalkboard for teaching purposes
- Had kept science and social studies lessons
- Had been allowed to use a lesson plan format that worked for me (since I ended up having to create two sets—one using the district’s template and one that actually made sense to me)
- Had implemented more hands-on instructions
For me, the question is this: how much freedom is truly possible within a standards-based system? According to a 2009 Harvard Education Review article, “… this era was marked by a loss of freedom for both teachers and students: as NCLB forced teachers to focus instruction on test taking rather than learning” (Behrent, p.2, 2009). On the other hand, a 2007 Education Digest article points out that this decade also marked the first time schools started using data to track student success, which in turn, brought awareness to a system in need of much improvement (Taylor, p.1, 2007). It is clear that the balance between freedom and abiding by the guidelines of No Child Left Behind is one that is yet to be struck.
With the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, educators and policymakers have had a decade to see what has worked and what hasn’t. The increased flexibility for the states and a greater focus on the lowest performing schools will hopefully bring positive results for students. And from my experience, I’m hoping that educators and policymakers will work together to create a balance between individual freedom in teaching and accountability that will bring positive results for teachers, as well.