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What Time Left Behind

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Time magazine's cover story on No Child Left Behind is a much-needed evaluation of a controversial, complicated law. I mean, their first example is a school where, before the law was enacted, only 13% of fifth- and eighth-graders could read at grade level or above. Now that number is 36%. That's like a difference of…um…well, it's a big difference.

I've never read the actual document because it's, oh, 1,100 pages, so I'm only as familiar with the law as I am with the criticisms of it. (I'm barely getting through The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and that's only because I have to for my book club.) This article helped put the statute in perspective. The purpose of the law was to expose failing schools and hold them accountable. And, according to Time, it's done just that.

It's almost everywhere else that the law has underperformed.

Raising student achievement? "Though some districts are reporting significant gains, results on national math and reading tests are mostly flat – so far." (Which is only kind of true – their own graphs show gains in math for fifth- and eighth-graders.)

Measuring school improvement? "The law's reliance on a single,pass-fail system for assessing 'adequate yearly progress' is one of its weakest points." In other words, every school has to reach a standardized plane of grade-level reading. So even kids who make significant gains but don't reach that plane are considered failures.

Raising standards for teachers? “NCLB is the first federal statute to require that teachers actually know the subjects they teach, though there are still some loopholes.” Time gave NCLB a mixed review for what it expects of teachers, and teachers have some problems with NCLB. 30,000 educators (and concerned citizens) have signed an The part I was most interested in reading about was how NCLB's intense focus on standardized testing for math and reading leaves other subjects overlooked. With so much time dedicated to taking tests (a skill some smart children aren't good at, to begin with), the article explains how science and social studies have suffered.

I was surprised that the authors left it at that. While those are undoubtedly essential subjects, I was expecting them to then explore the lack of art, music and physical education in our grade schools. Granted, their suggestions for NCLB's improvement include schools providing more information about "achievement in the arts" but the suggestion seems half-assed. What about the effects on students' morale, engagement and, indeed, performance in other subjects due to the dwindling focus on art and music? There have been studies done (they're what VH1's entire "Save the Music" foundation is based on), so why weren't they even briefly referenced?

Even more blatant is overlooking the consequences of diminishing physical education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (the same source for many of Time's figures), only 17-22% of elementary schools provided daily physical education in 2005. This is extremely important because childhood obesity seems to be growing as fast as a third-grader's waistband. (Seriously, has anyone at Time ever seen those overweight kids on Maury Povich? They eat grilled cheese sandwiches the way others eat french fries) Yes, there are other contributing factors, such as eating habits and extra-curricular activities. But do they think recess makes up for no gym class? Are they thinking about this at all?

Almost 1 in every 3 kids is overweight or at the risk of becoming overweight. It's a greasy, oily, deep-fried downward spiral from there. The huge increase in rates of childhood obesity has led to increased rates of childhood diabetes, so much so that "adult-onset diabetese" has changed names to just "type 2 diabetese" since so many kids have it now. Along with increased blood pressure and stress, today's children are on the road to lifelong health problems. And according to the American Heart Association in 2006, the direct national cost of treating obesity-related diseases are already estimated at $61 billion. That number could go up and up as these overweight children become overweight adults. Of course, this problem began before NCLB, but that program's intense emphasis on standardized testing has exacerbated it.

I know I'm hardly the first person to point all of this out, so I couldn't believe Time didn't even touch on this subject. Granted, it's already a long article (almost as long as this post), but still. If it's going to be a comprehensive evaluation of the program, negative side effects should be mentioned, if not thoroughly explored.

Time's final grade for No Child Left Behind? C.

My final grade for Time's article? B.

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About Don Baiocchi

  • Graham McKnight

    I sympathise with the Art teacher. I intend to train as a history teacher after graduation as I believe education to be one of humanities’ greatest emancipators.

    Sadly, whilst in High School, the shack that I was taught history in was plastered with ply-wood to stop the rain water from getting in, and later abandoned and demolished as it was later found to contain dangerously high levels of asbestos (a cancer inducing material) in the cealing.

  • Art teacher

    I am a High School teacher and my take on NCLB is that it is hurting kids. I have students who go through all this testing and either come in after emotionally up set and crying, or physically ill from nerves. I also have english language learners who say that rather than face 2 periods of math and two periods of english next year if they don’t do well, they will drop out and get a job. This is helping? IN terms of my situation, the arts don’t matter. The result is that my roof leaks in 5 places, the desks are broken and equipment is falling apart. No money they say. I am the only art teacher for 2600 kids, and to teach 6 periods, nine classes, they give me $1900.00 for supplies for a year. We are down to pencils and paper, the cheapest paint money can find. I have three degrees and I am considering another line of work. I hate to abandon the kids, but this is so stressful it is making ME physically ill. NCLB, the death of learning.

  • My grade for this article: C. It starts over halfway through the article.

  • Lots of interesting stuff here. Frankly, it’s surprising to me that Time had anything good to say about NCLC given their general slant.

    NCLC has certainly produced some superficial improvements in the schools, but the only thing which would really solve the problems would be the suppression of the teachers unions and laws setting limits on centralized administrative spending and decentralizing authority to local school managers.