I will not deny the fact that I have been highly critical of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for a very long time. True, I was hopeful when it was first released in January 2001. A lot has changed since then as I have watched the federal government narrow public education to tests, scripted curriculum, and more tests. I have been enraged at how poor and under-resourced communities have been expected to produce the same results with fewer resources, only to be further financially penalized when they missed the mark. So imagine my reaction when I read this New York Times article this morning.
NCLB is up for reauthorization this year, and a number of different groups have been weighing in on what ought to be changed. There are the “accountability” advocates who say that they will consider no plan that weakens testing. There are those who want to change teacher licensure so that it can be easier for anyone with a Bachelors degree. And now there’s Miller’s latest idea: to ease requirements for suburban schools.
That’s right, folks. Middle class and suburban communities would be held to different standards. Then again, the article notes that states with large immigrant communities would also have different requirements. So why am I not screaming about the changes for immigrant students? It has to do with understanding privilege and language acquisition. This proposal would relax adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements for suburban schools that have small numbers of students in different groups. What that means is that as long as the schools aren’t failing across the board, it’s OK that a student group or two (as long as it’s small) don’t make it. I thought that was the purpose of NCLB: to ensure that all students are counted. Under this plan, suburban schools don’t have to count all their students.
The changes for states with large immigrant populations are equally problematic. Rather than require schools with large English Language Learner (ELL) populations to test their students in English after two years, schools would have five years. This is good because the research on language acquisition indicates that it takes five years of instruction in English before ELL students would excel academically in an English-only classroom. The downside, of course, is that ELL students will be tested in their native languages for five years, which means that schools need to provide tests in many different languages (in my “suburban” district, that would mean up to sixty different languages). That will be a huge burden to individual districts, to say nothing about the educational impact on ELL students.
So why am I so crazed after reading this article? Because it once again indicates to me that NCLB is nothing more than a shell game to achieve the end of public education. If suburban schools aren’t held to the same standards as urban or rural schools, then the federal government is punishing the students who attend urban or rural schools for being “urban” or “rural” students. And, given the fact that urban and rural public schools tend to have fewer economic resources than their suburban counterparts, the federal government is engaging in a very pernicious form of discrimination. Let me be honest, I am a former inner-city school teacher who is committed to urban education. To have a proposal floated that exempts suburban districts because of their access to academic resources and their lack of “diversity” (read: predominantly middle class and of western European descent) while continuing to punish urban districts is unconscionable.