U.S. Receives an "F" With No Child Left Behind

School districts around the nation fail to meet requirements defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law started out with the intention of raising the quality of public school education, but has largely backfired and never lived up to its promises. Without drastic changes to the American education system, U.S. graduates will have a hard time competing for jobs with better-educated people from overseas.

More than 80% of the nation’s public schools will likely fail to meet the law’s standards. The consequences range from school closures to the complete replacement of the teaching staff.

The country’s public school system does not need a series of standardized tests as prescribed under the No Child Left Behind law, but a change in how it educates its students. Teachers have to be able to meet a student’s individual needs, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Year after year, the United States falls further behind in comparison to other nations regarding proficiency in math, science, reading, and graduation rates.

A leading organization that conducts and compares these tests is the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, PISA is a system of international assessments that focuses on 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading, math, and science. The latest test results, which were conducted in 2009, ranked the U.S. near the bottom of 30 comparable countries.

According to the 2009 report, the U.S. ranks 25th in math and 21st in science. Finland is first in science and second in math. The U.S. simply cannot afford to fall too far behind in both math and science if it wants to hold its postition as a leader in research and technology.

It is definitely not a money issue; the amount spent per student from Kindergarten through 12th grade is $129,000 compared to other countries’ averaging only $95,000. The United States spends more than any other of the 30 countries compared, but is not able to translate this into top results.

Even more concerning are our high school graduation rates. In this category the U.S. ranks 20th. Countries like Germany, Japan, and Great Britain have impressive graduation rates of 90% or more. In the U.S. this number is a low 72%.

There are numerous reasons why the U.S. lags behind in these categories but spends roughly a quarter more on its students than the rest.

There has to be a change in culture. Instead of cutting teachers' salaries and giving them a bad reputation, people should realize that it is the teachers who can influence the direction where this country is heading. If the U.S. wants to keep its position as the world’s economic and technological superpower, it has to improve its educational system.

The easiest way to close the gap is to increase the quality of education. Top-performing countries like South Korea and Finland recruit teachers from the top of their college classes. "The consensus is not surprising, the most important ingredient in what works is the quality of a student's teacher," said education consultant Mark Schneider. If the teachers do not fully comprehend their topic, how can they teach it to teenagers?

Another way back to the top will be a change in curriculum because a broad scope of knowledge is not important anymore. To have success in today's world, students have to become specialists, whether it is science, math, foreign language, or even physical education. The world has seen dramatic changes over the course of half a century, but our schools have not kept up. "We still have an education system that is very much geared for the industrial age, if not the agrarian age. We've gotten stuck in the old norms. The world has changed and our schools have not kept up,” said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust.

It is time for a complete overhaul of the nation’s education system, and getting rid of the No Child Left Behind Act and its standardized tests is a first step.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons