Originally posted on EdNews Colorado: http://www.ednewscolorado.org/2012/12/09/53536-voices-what-went-wrong-with-nclb

Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally known education thinker, says that the problem with taking things for granted in education is that we do not realize that we take them for granted – because we take them for granted. We took something for granted and never questioned its impact a decade or so ago.

Almost 12 years ago, public education as we knew it ended. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 changed our schools’ fundamental purpose – but a casual observer would be hard-pressed to realize that such a transformational event had taken place. And that’s the problem: society has been slow to realize (and in some cases, entirely ignorant of) the impact that this legislation should have brought to public schools for the U.S. Too many of us have been casual observers.

NCLB did change some policies. Policymakers interpreted it by requiring standardized state assessments and punitive responses. These relatively quick and easy policy shifts were embraced by many critics of public education. But this did not require us look at what the new law was demanding of public education: all students should achieve at high levels.

There are many instructional changes NCLB should have brought:

  • No more ranking and sorting students into various categories of achievement.
  • No more “one size fits all” treatment – whether for students or teachers.
  • No more use of inaccurate and ineffective grading policies.
  • No more industrial-like curriculum based on models that did not
    acknowledge that students learn differently and need variations in time
    and support.
  • And no more antiquated funding formulas.

If we focus on the underlying principle behind NCLB, we will see that we have chosen to ignore it: all students are expected to learn and achieve at high levels.

Missing in action: Adequate funding

This lack of adherence to an ambitious, admirable educational goal is reflected in how we continue to fund our schools – or how we fail to. Arguably, some of the recent lack of funding can be linked to the Great Recession of 2007-2008. And for Colorado, TABOR certainly makes it difficult to return to significant funding increases, since our increase cannot exceed cost of living. But a closer inspection reveals that we were on the path to inadequate funding long before this economic downturn.

NCLB should have changed the way we fund schools. Helping all students achieve at high levels requires additional resources: more individualized attention, better preparation for teachers, improved teaching and learning conditions, more time for planning and instruction, and in some cases, the ability to connect students with services that solve basic problems (like hunger, sickness, and vision or dental problems). It is time for the state of Colorado – and the rest of our country – to embrace the notion that all students can learn at high levels, given the time and resources necessary.

Meanwhile, there have been dramatic demographic shifts: increased numbers of students who are English Language Learners and of students living in poverty – and who therefore are likely to need special resources. In the past 10 years, according to data from the Colorado School Finance Partnership, we have seen an increase of 260 percent of ELL students into Colorado schools. Our at-risk numbers have increased from 21 percent to 35 percent.

We have to recognize the massive shift in expectations – as well as changing demographics that call for additional resources. And then we must fund an educational system that helps all students achieve at a high levels.

It is time that the cultural shift embedded within NCLB becomes visible and actionable in Colorado, and across the country.

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