No Child Left Behind Turns Five
President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law five years ago today. One of the few truly bipartisan laws to pass Congress over the past few years, NCLB aimed to raise the achievement levels of poor and minority children while improving school accountability, giving parents choices and throwing federal weight behind proven education methods. USA Today has a thorough round-up of how the law has affected schools, teachers and kids here.
The centerpiece of the law is annual testing of all children. Parents of gifted kids have complained that the focus on testing (and keeping gifted kids' test scores in a certain grade to boost averages) has reduced support for gifted education, and has taken time away from the more accelerated material gifted kids are ready for. Standardized grade level tests -- which most gifted kids can ace without trying -- also tell nothing about whether individual gifted children are learning to the extent of their abilities.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has started talking a good game about making sure No Child Left Behind doesn't also mean No Child Let Ahead. When she spoke at the opening of the Davidson Academy in Reno this summer, she said the law should do more to encourage high achievers (of course, like all politicians, Spellings knows her audience). In an online "Ask the White House" session, she told one "Lora" from Boone, N.C. that "We are also in the process of looking at whether measuring individual student growth can be included in NCLB. This way of measuring how much each student learns in a year can help us show progress for kids who are above grade level. While we certainly have a lot of work to do in this area, you are right that we need to make sure our gifted students are also receiving a quality education." (you can read the whole chat transcript here.)
Whether anything will happen, though, remains to be seen. I am curious what effects people have seen from NCLB in their own schools with regards to gifted education over the past five years. I suspect that schools that value gifted children and gifted education have continued to find a way to challenge them within the guidelines of NCLB, while schools that have long been itching for a way to abolish or trim gifted education have used the law as a club to do that.
It's popular in some quarters to reflexively bash NCLB, but I don't think that's too smart. A number of districts have improved test scores for low income students over the past few years, a result that is worth celebrating to the high heavens. The USA Today article highlights one Philadelphia elementary school that has seen the proportion of kids scoring at grade level on state reading tests rise from 2 in 10 in 2003 to 7 in 10 in 2005. If those results are being repeated elsewhere, then society will be reaping major benefits 10-15 years from now in higher incomes, reduced crime, etc. Some principals and superintendents are also using NCLB as an excuse to clean house of non-performing teachers and to revamp underwhelming curricula. That's another result worth celebrating.
But it does seem that there should be a way to focus on raising the ceiling and the floor. Testing individual progress -- on a sensitive enough scale (i.e., out-of-level testing for gifted kids) and holding schools accountable for the results would seem like one way. Breaking out results for children identified as gifted could give parents a better idea of which schools nurture such talents. NCLB was also supposed to spur competition between schools, which in theory could have led to special gifted programs at some magnet schools in big cities. Unfortunately, many districts have made it tough for kids to transfer, which reduces the effectiveness of this element of NCLB.
I'm curious about Gifted Exchange readers' verdicts on NCLB at five. Please post and discuss. (I also want to thank readers for linking to this site so often -- when I Googled "Margarent Spellings" and "gifted education" to research this piece, Gifted Exchange came up first!)