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Teachers struggle with NCLB

Published: Monday, September 24, 2012

Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 18:09

Every year third through eighth grade students sit nervously at their desks with their sharpened No. 2 pencils as a teacher passes out sheets of paper which bear more resemblance to a Sudoku puzzle than an academic exam.

I’m talking about standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), legislation which politicians in Washington created to fix our education system.

Ten years later, most would say that plan has failed, and if we’ve learned our lesson, we should question any plan by the federal government or the next president to fix the current system.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from being an education major, it’s that politics are heavily mixed into educational policies and procedures.

State standards, molded from federal expectations, have forced many classroom teachers to teach the test so their students can attain “proficiency,” and the general frameworks the state uses do not always flow chronologically.

I learned this from several teachers I know, including the one I was assigned to observe for my Field Two education class.

She explained to me the frameworks’ illogical flow can make an otherwise simple lesson plan difficult to work with.

I bring this up because there seems to be a major disconnect between the political whims and ideas of what education should be and the reality of the situation in the classroom. Schools’ hands are tied, the teachers can’t always teach what they want to teach, and kids come out knowing how to take a test, but are quite often ill-prepared for college and the real world.

It’s no wonder that by Sept. 10 of this year, 44 states and education agencies sought a waiver from NCLB, according to an article from Alabama Local News.

And yet many of us seem to be more concerned with the presidential candidates’ stance on education than the possible solutions presented at the state or local level.

While I appreciate Romney’s position on vouchers and school choice, and Obama’s position on merit pay and higher school standards, I’m not sure I feel comfortable having these debates at the national level when they should be decided by individual states and communities.

If there’s anything we should all agree on, it’s that the closer you are to home, the better you know how to fix what’s broken. Another federal plan or national solution easily gets too bureaucratic and difficult to implement.

This is why I’m hopeful about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a set of standards adopted by 45 states, including Arkansas, and developed “with teachers, school administrators and experts,” according to the official website

 It was not implemented by Congress and the President but by individual states, and while the goals are similar, each state or locality can implement them as it sees fit.

Certainly, NCLB was a noble plan, and there are still many good elements to it, like school accountability, school choice and qualified teachers.

But we are naïve to think any law or policy from distant Washington politicians could ever fix the education system, especially since it challenges one of the best methods to deal with problems—local control.

When policy makers can sit down and accept the fact that schools and teachers need more autonomy, not central planning, we might actually get something fixed!

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