The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program holds schools responsible for the progress of each student's education. At first glance, this seems like a good idea and, of course, nobody wants to have children grow up without getting an adequate education.
However, education, especially for younger students, is not something that is completely in the hands of a school. The formula for success of a student's education includes the student themselves as well as the student's family. The NCLB program makes no allowances for the fact that while the school is doing all that they can to help educate the child, the child may not care or, in some cases, their family may not care and may even stand in the way of their child getting adequate assistance.
In Virginia, each year schools use the Standards of Learning tests to measure the progress made by students. The problem here is that the student has no skin in the game until they get to high school. In Middle School, if the student passes or fails, it doesn't matter. They are still promoted to the next grade -- the test is just used as a measure of the school's performance. This lack of skin in the game means that some students, once they recognize this, don't study or otherwise help prepare themselves for the test and when taking the test, don't even try to do well.
Family life, which has the biggest impact on student success, is not considered at all in NCLB. In fact because of the segregation of student groups, traditional minority groups which have a strong cultural drive for education (Chinese, Indian, Japanese, etc.) are purposefully prevented from raising the bar for all minorities. Parents have a responsibility to their children to help them learn the value of a good education and to help them get a good education. With NCLB, Parents who don't do this, who sometimes even make it hard for a student to succeed have no repercussions.
This is coming to a head now because of this formerly little known provision requiring "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) for all groups -- not just the school as a whole. This means that if any of the subgroups don't make adequate year over year progress, the school can be subject to corrective actions. Even the best of schools can be subject to this. Recently the Washington Post ran a story about some good local schools that were taking seemingly drastic moves to meet the requirements for AYP. From the article:
The principal of Earle B. Wood Middle School in Rockville gathered teachers and handed out a list of all the black, Hispanic, special-education and limited-English-speaking students who would take the Maryland School Assessment, the measure of success or failure under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.
Principal Renee Foose told teachers to cross off the names of students who had virtually no chance of passing and those certain to pass. Those who remained, children on the cusp between success and failure, would receive 45 minutes of intensive test preparation four days a week, until further notice.
Apparently some are concerned about doing this, but, given the position that these schools are in with limited funds, limited time and so much on the line, I think it's appropriate for them to target their resources where those resources will have the biggest impact. However, I don't think that the school should be put into this position. There needs to be a better way than putting everything on the school.
So where does all this leave us? First off, I think that there should be some way to make the students and the parents responsible as well. I'm not sure exactly what to do, but this can't be done just by the schools. The solution has to include families and students.