Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Alabama leaving education reform law behind

The No Child Left Behind Act was passed into law a decade ago based on a simple premise – that by 2014 no child should fall through the cracks of the U.S. education system. So, it required states to test third through eighth grade students annually, and test all high school students at least once before graduation. By 2014, every student would be expected to score proficiently in every subject.

So we hoped.

As we have been getting closer to the 2014 deadline, the Obama administration has issued waivers to 33 states that allow them to opt out of these onerous requirements, realizing the near impossibility of every student testing proficiently in every subject in two years. Now, Alabama is trying to join those other states, submitting its own Plan 2020 as a better way to grade improvements in our education system.

If Alabama is granted such a waiver, NCLB will be dead in this state.

This could be a double-edged sword. NCLB’s goals are indeed unrealistic, and punishing schools that don’t meet them would require punishing almost every school. Still, while universal student proficiency may not be a realistic goal, it is nevertheless a goal all of our teachers, parents, principlas, and school system leaders should be striving toward.

Our education system is sort of like Christianity. No one can live without sin, but every Christian should try. No state can make sure every kid gains proficiency in even the basics of every subject, but every state should try.

By replacing the metrics schools have operated around for the last decade with a new formula, Alabama risks sending its educators the message that trying isn’t worth it. As soon as we concede that trying isn’t worth it, we concede that some children are worth leaving behind.

Replacing the Adequate Yearly Progress goals at the heart of NCLB with Plan 2020 goals will also create some confusion. Many schools have failed to meet their AYP goals for years and as a result, have been forced to allow parents to chose other schools in their districts and undertake restructuring efforts. How will those schools transition to the new system?

If the slate is simply wiped clean and underperforming educators are allowed to remain in control of failing schools, years of school improvement efforts could be lost. Furthermore, it would set the precedent that future school accountability metrics are only temporary policy decisions, destined to go the way of AYP and, before that, President Clinton’s Goals 2000 initiative.

The very name Plan 2020 implies that this latest education reform effort will be short-lived, inviting the obvious question of what happens after 2020. School leaders failing to improve their performance could easily solace themselves with the thought that the entire system will again be replaced before they ever bare any consequences for their leadership.

Finally, parents and community members have grown accustomed to annual AYP reports, which let them know if their local schools have met expectations. Will the new metrics, which are much more comprehensive, be similarly easy to understand?

Florida grades its schools on the same letter system most schools grade their students. Such a system may be helpful in Alabama because it would allow the state to factor a larger number of metrics into its scores while making them easy to understand.

Ultimately, NCLB will place an impossible burden on states and schools. Creating a new framework to measure school performance isn’t just a preferable solution, but a necessary one.

The challenge for education policymakers in Alabama is to manage that transition in a way that builds upon the improvements the law has inspired, instead of entirely disregarding the last decade we’ve spent working toward AYP goals. While those goals have frustrated many educators, they have led to real improvements in student achievement and laid the foundation for greater accountability in our school system. NCLB has also established the most essential prerequisite for building a better education system in the future, by allowing the public to know and compare how its schools are performing.

Measuring student achievement, holding educators accountable and providing the public with information about school performance are all things that should remain a part of state education policy well beyond the year 2020.

State leaders have undoubtably put great effort into their proposal. But it is important for them to remember that NCLB, while not flawless, isn’t without merit.

More to Discover