As a ten-year former school board member in Carroll ISD (Southlake, TX), I watched with great interest as legislation that was supposed to ensure that kids in public schools had an opportunity to learn turned out to be pretty much the opposite. Instead of focusing on creativity and learning in the classroom, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2002 resulted in students having to take numerous high stakes tests. And how did they prepare for them? They took class time so that teachers could "teach to the test". NCLB had a significant impact not just on the kids but on those who teach kids everyday. Teachers and administrators found themselves having to do focus their energies toward student preparation to take these tests.
Finally, some sanity. On July 16, the US Senate (by a vote of 81-17) passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), legislation that potentially alters the education landscape dramatically. Among provisions incorporated were amendments that make career and technology education (CTE) a core subject, opportunities for districts to develop local policies regarding opting out of standardized tests, and a cap on the amount of time spent on tests. Now that is real change.
The House passed similar legislation (Student Success Act) but only by a vote of 218-213. It will now be up to a conference committee to define legislation that can be approved in both chambers and then sent on to the President. There is clearly work still to be done. What's not so clear is how this administration will respond to the legislation that is working its way through the process.
But why should we even care? Whether you believe statistics that show the United States as significantly lagging in education compared to the rest of the world (and there is data that suggests just the opposite), it's critical that we get behind legislation that restores opportunities for creativity and real learning in the classroom. Passage of this legislation could, in fact, stem the tide of an exodus of teachers from the profession, many because they had lost the autonomy and ability to truly impact education under NCLB. At the core of those in the profession is a desire to make a difference in the lives of students; they now may have a renewed opportunity to achieve that.
Regardless of the data, it is time for us to step up and address the constraints that NCLB imposed on our educational system. All of us have a responsibility to not only understand why the new legislation is important but to actively participate in an educational system that will create a foundation for the future of all of us.