The No Child Left Behind Act is Topic A in education these days. The law has certainly set some ambitious goals for public schools--including tight timelines for meeting new teacher qualifications and showing across-the-board student progress.
So what do current teachers think about the law? What are their questions and concerns? How do they think it will affect their classrooms and their profession?
Recently, Education Week on the WEB hosted two online forums related to the No Child Left Behind Act--a live chat with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and a readers’ TalkBack discussion on some comments by Mr. Paige on the law. Teachers were among the most active participants in these conversations.
Cheryl Pratt, a teacher in the Bering Strait school district in Alaska, asked Secretary Paige what accommodations could be made for teachers in remote areas who may not have access to certification classes. Mr. Paige responded by highlighting e-learning opportunities for instructors in remote areas, mentioning in particular the online Teachers College at Western Governors University. Chemistry teacher Gene Bender had a similar concern: Are teachers in rural schools expected to have a major in every subject they teach? This would create a “logistical nightmare,” he said. Mr. Paige replied that the department’s Rural Task Force is “studying the issue” of compliance with teacher-quality requirements in small rural areas, adding that he thought flexibility in the law could accommodate such issues.
Instructional specialist Mary Ellen Kotz wondered if certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards mattered in relation to “highly qualified teacher” requirements. Mr. Paige responded that in fact completion of this program can demonstrate subject-matter competency for middle and secondary school teachers.
One teacher who works in a “poor town in Georgia” was worried that the teaching requirements of the law focusing on ‘content learning’ would do little to help her students, the majority of whom are considered ‘at-risk’ students. “If we do not focus on content,” Mr. Paige stated, “then we have done students a disservice.” He added there are “many examples of at-risk students achieving at high levels despite challenging circumstances.”
In the Talkback forum, a number of teachers posted comments suggesting that socioeconomic factors play too great a role in student performance for educators to be held solely accountable for getting 100 percent of students to meet progress goals. Sheri McLeod-Rose characterized the accountability requirements for student achievement as “absurd. ... I have never met one educator that was not in support of the success of every student. But ‘No Child Left Behind’ act assumes the responsibility is only up to the education system.”
Reading specialist Pat Elston, however, countered that teachers should avoid using “excuses.” She argued that if most teachers “taught effectively, we would not see many of the problems we see today.” Others applauded the “noble intentions” of the law but were critical of its “unrealistic” expectations and “intimidating” mandates on both teachers and students.
Secretary Paige has been adamant that the requirements are realistic and attainable. “Are we really willing to say,” he asked, “that we--the richest and most powerful nation on earth--are simply unable to ‘fix’ our schools fast enough ...?”
For some teachers who participated in our forums, however, the concern seems to be whether the law fully addresses the complexity of this task.