Will NCLB Be Reformed?

Will the No Child Left Behind law be reformed? Most likely, though the benefits of that are not yet clear. Here’s one summary of a proposed change, from a “status” model to a “growth” model. The status model, which we have now, looks at school performance as a snapshot. The growth model looks at individual student performance to see if it has improved over time.

There are benefits to both approaches. The status approach is consistent with the idea that there’s a certain body of knowledge and set of skills to acquire and that students can be tested for them. The growth approach recognizes that some schools, and some students, start much further behind the starting line than others. Another appeal is that it applies to all students. There’s some evidence than under NCLB, schools have focused nearly exclusively on the performance of students who are near proficiency, ignoring those far from it–or beyond it.

One troubling feature of the whole debate, though, is that any move to a growth standard will almost surely be motivated by the desire to let schools off the hook (that is, avoid sanctions) for not meeting the standards set by NCLB right now. Look at that word: Sanctions. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Something that’s bad and to be avoided?

But that question comes from a way of thinking that neglects education and favors schools. The goal seems to be to minimize any disruption to schools as we know them. That’s the wrong goal. The right goal should be the education of children, which might mean diverse means for diverse students. If that means converting a standard school to a charter school as a result of NCLB, so be it. If it means giving students in a failing school a voucher to enroll elsewhere …. Well, for whose benefit are we levying “school” taxes, anyway?

At the moment, call us ambivalent on the status-versus-growth debate.

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