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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

NCLB: Law and Evolution

Hate No Child Left Behind? It's here to stay, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved.
By Roberta Furger
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PREDICTION: NCLB will be accepted, if grudgingly, as a fact of educational life, but will evolve by policy advocates and new congressional leadership.

Parent-involvement advocates such as the Public Education Network and the National PTA are pushing for increased funding to support such services as parent-resource centers, as well as an expansion of the parental-notification provisions (triggered by a school's failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals). Those concerned with the nation's high dropout rates are urging Congress to include provisions in the next iteration of NCLB that will both accurately report the number of students leaving schools before graduation and hold schools and districts accountable for the students they lose. But perhaps the most contentious issue of all involves the third key player in the education triumvirate: the teacher.

First on the teacher-provision punch list: How do we move from the current definition of "highly qualified teacher," which most people agree is limiting and limited, to one that more accurately reflects a teacher's experience, content knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, his or her ability to educate all students to high standards?

Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, advocates for a tiered approach to measuring teacher qualifications -- from minimally qualified (a newly credentialed teacher, for instance) to highly expert, which Berry describes as those "who improve student learning and spread their expertise to other teachers."

"We need to frame this in a way that is respectful of the complexities of teaching," adds Berry, which, he contends, means using more than just test scores to gauge teacher effectiveness.

Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications for the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to improve education for all students, agrees with Berry that NCLB 2.0 should address the issue of teacher effectiveness versus bare-bones qualifications. Unlike Berry, though, Wilkins and her colleagues have advocated for a value-added approach that relies largely on multiyear test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

Pointing to the disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers in high-poverty schools, the Ed Trust is also calling for a more equitable distribution of effective and qualified teachers. Although provisions in the current law require states to develop equitable teacher-distribution plans, Wilkins says, they haven't been given high enough priority and there aren't sufficient penalties for school districts and states that don't take the requirements seriously.

What's Next > Merit Pay

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous (not verified)

Why do we have to accept NCLB as inevitable? Like so many of the destructive, poorly executed and crony-laced programs foisted on us by the current administration, maybe this one should just be tossed on the trash heap, and rethought by people who believe in education, instead of destroying the public system for their own financial and theocratic benefit.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't think it should be a foregone conclusion that NCLB will stay. The heart and soul of education is being betrayed as principals push for higher test scores. No one in power questions the validity of tests; standards are not assessed to determine if they are reasonable, appropriate, or doable. All attention is focused on test scores as we forget all we know about child development and what is important in encouraging the growth of creative, self-actualized American citizens.

I am actually astounded that the a foundation associated with George Lucas would so easily accept a law that has caused schools to stop reading novels except in AP classes. Stories aren't being read for the story itself. Literature is discussed and written about in terms of testing, not in terms of what literature tells us about ourselves and how we relate to each other.

Al Ochsner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

No matter how much lipstick you put on this pig, it still is a horrible mistake.

Perhaps they should allow educators to develop criteria for politician's performances.

Randy Rivers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This law has been a horrible mistake. It's top down, myopic focus has, at least in my state of Kansas, stopped in its tracks a wonderful school improvement model that was moving us forward at a respectable pace. Since NCLB regs have been co-mingled with our system, I have witnessed a significant decline in the educational improvement climate in our state.

Darryl Alexander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that there are at least two important elements currently not addressed in the NCLB debate. We have failed to take into account of both the health status of students as it relates to student productivity/achievement and the influences of the built environment on student performance. Let's look at health status - especially of children who grow up in old urban areas. Those children who live in old housing stock are still at risk of lead exposure and recent research suggests that blood lead levels much lower than the current CDC guidelines (i.e. as low as 5 micrograms per deciliter) have implications for cognitive (learning) development and perhaps for behavior (attention span, impulse control etc.). Also children in inner cities have higher rates of asthma and a link has been made with poorly managed asthma and behavior in school. Why aren't we devoting more money and attention to researching these issues in the context of NCLB? All the onus cannot be put on "poorly" qualified teachers or bad curriculum. Students are not empty vessels; they are living, breathing organisms and we have to pay attention to the influence of their physiologic development on academic achievement.

Now, let's turn to the buiilt environment especially in poor urban and rural schools - deteriorating schools put students in environments that may contribute to poor performance. We know that mold or damp environments, exposure to mice urine/feces, cockroaches etc. contributes to higher rates of asthma exacerbation. How can we put the highest risk children in these environments and expect them to perform their best.

Let's track other influences on student performances as well as the snap shot scores of high stakes tests. We should put research money into NCLB to evaluate the influence of lead and other environmental exposures on children's performance. And we should require schools to submit information on school environmental conditions so that we can determine if there is a correlation between performance and the built environment (data that has been sorely lacking for several years).

Gerald W. Bracey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wrote an anti-NCLB article for Newsday a year before the damn thing became law. This is terrible legislation and no one should accept it as inevitable (my more general treatise, "The Perfect Law", appeared in the Fall, 2004 issue of Dissent and is available free online at

I recently collaborated with a teacher and videographer to create a video for You Tube which can be seen at It didn't come out the way I thought it would, but it's still useful watching (the initial idea was that so many people STILL dont know what the law involves that I would explicate the principal provisions). I think the producers plan more versions.

Gerald W. Bracey
Alexandria, VA

Robin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We would have such a educated, thinking, innovated leaders if teachers worked together to write sound curriculum for politicians. Then we would guide them and allow them to soar using those sound, solid skills to run the country. What a country we would have......As opposed to the politicians who write educational laws regardless of whether these laws support curriculum, child psychology/child development and educational strategies .

Furthermore. politicians don't allow creative innovative thinking by teachers who have long experience, practice, and knowledge; rather, they tie teachers hands with unreasonable laws such as NCLB. Just think of the politician who made a law on the cutoff date of when a child could enter first grade. He based this law on his own child turning 6 in December.It was an arbitrary whim on his part, not based on child development, maturation, and studies. This has often caused children to be pushed into an educational environment before they were ready.

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