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Apodaca: It's time to reform No Child Left Behind

March 10, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

A recent presentation before the Newport-Mesa school board underscored both the strengths and weaknesses of the federal "No Child Left Behind" act.

NCLB, a decade old this year, has created a deep well of data on student achievement, exposed great disparities in progress in reading and math, and made schools accountable for improving student performance.

On the minus side, however, are problems so troubling that many critics have called for a complete overhaul of NCLB. Though the goals of "No Child" are worthy, they say, it's time to go back to the drawing board on education reform.

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Among the criticisms: The law set up a steep curve for improvement that is nearly impossible to achieve; it forces teachers to abandon creativity and valuable lessons in favor of "teaching to the test," and it has led some states to lower their standards in order to meet rigid benchmarks.

Detractors also worry that diverting too much attention to low-performing students in order to boost scores might be shortchanging the needs of other children.

Even those who once backed NCLB now say the bad outweighs the good. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was recently quoted saying that NCLB is "like taking a hammer to kill an ant."

Newport-Mesa Unified administrators used a different analogy at the recent study session: Hockey.

Taking board members through an impressive, though somewhat overwhelming, display of statistics, the officials repeatedly pointed to a "hockey stick" formation on various graphs, and referred to schools in the "penalty box." There was mention of "running the Zamboni," although the meaning behind the reference to the ice-resurfacing machine escaped me.

Nevertheless, the point of the exhaustive report was clear. As Assistant Supt. Charles Hinman told the board, "We need to do more to help our struggling students."

The subtext was equally evident. There is absolutely no way that Newport-Mesa — or pretty much every other district for that matter — will close the NCLB gap within two years.

According to the law, schools must be in full compliance with federal standards by 2014, meaning that all students must score in the proficient or advanced range by then.

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