No Child Left Behind Anniversary: Collateral Damage is Making Education System Worse

January 8, 2013 is the 11th anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB). Its central idea is to demand accountability for all government-funded schools and to use standardized testing as the measurement of students' achievement. There have been plenty of debates and discussion about the pros and cons of NCLB.

No matter how much people criticize this law, we have to admit that the original motive behind its creation is a very democratic one. Just read the title of Section 101: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged. "The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education" and "[meet] the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation's highest-poverty schools."

So what are the negative consequences of NCLB?

1) Scapegoating teachers

American politicians have this strange peculiarity of crediting their success to their families. Remember San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at the 2012 Democratic National Convention? He talked from beginning to end about the decisive role that his mother and grandmother played in his life. First Lady Michelle Obama looked back at her and President Barack Obama’s success, and she credited their respective parents and grandparents. In addition, Chris Christie at the Republican National Convention talked about the influence of his mom and dad. Throughout all the speeches of these successful politicians, no one ever mentioned the name of a significant teacher in their lives.

But when people fail, they don't blame their families, they look at the system, specifically, our educational system.

I would argue, be it success or failure, family is the first classroom with parents being the first teachers.

The function of a teacher is to impart knowledge. It is not part of their job description to dispense discipline or to instill values or to babysit their students. Simply because politicians cannot hold parents responsible, at their wit's end, they go after teachers with the NCLB club.

2) The NCLB shifts the center of a child's education away from the family

When we hold teachers totally responsible for a child's academic success or failure, we actually place the teachers in the center of a child's education, granting parents immunity from their parental responsibility.

When people relish lampooning the "tiger mom" style of parenting, they conveniently choose to forget the boundless dedication and sacrifice of those parents. I have heard of many cases where Asian parents make sacrifices for their children, like not watching TV while their child is studying or reading school-required books to be able to discuss it with their child, or shifting their work hours so that they can be home when their child is out of school, etc.

It is time to shift back to the family as the center of our educational system. It is time we turn our attention to the function or dysfunction of our families.

The root of the problem with these low academic performers lies not in their teachers but in their families. It is the parents' responsibility to make sure their child has internalized proper discipline and work ethic at home so that their child goes to school mentally and
emotionally prepared for the work there.

To a greater extent, this kind of socialization and the values instilled in a child right after birth shapes their vision of the world and plays a large role in whether they will make it through high school and college.

No child would be left behind if all children were raised in the same supportive environment as First Lady Michelle Obama was raised in or had the same mother as Mayor Julian Castro.

3) Learning for learning instead of testing

When the teachers are evaluated based on their students' test scores, they are more likely to concentrate on test preparation. Anything not on the test is not likely to be mentioned in class. How narrow will our vision and interests be under this type of teaching? What good will it be to our nation if our schools end up generating batches of students whose main strength is test taking? Where is the room for curiosity, creativity, innovation, and learning purely for the sake of learning?

4) High academic performers are cold-shouldered

One of the most unforgiving injustices that NCLB has done to our nation is ignoring high achievers.

In general, education serves two levels: on an individual level, it helps one become a productive citizen; on a national level, President Barack Obama directly links education to global competition, saying, “the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

On a graph, a normal distribution always yields a bell-shaped curve with the majority clustering around the middle and a small number of outliers symmetrically on both sides of the mean.

The NCLB was created to take care of one side of the bell, and consequentially has ignored the needs of the other side of the curve.

By ignoring high performers at school, we practically tell these kids: “You are already good enough. You don’t need to work hard. Just sit and wait for the rest of the class.”

Thus, these kids no longer feel motivated to put in more effort. By ignoring them, we also run the risk of losing the opportunity to identify and cultivate future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors to compete with other nations.

This is the biggest disservice that NCLB has done to the nation and to the millennial generation.