Is the Education System the Best We Can Do in America?

What will it take to make the American education system exceptional? It’s an issue that policy makers, parents, and educators have been wrestling with for decades. For many, it can seem like the road to broken schools has been paved with poorly planned intentions. A solid 40 years of expensive reform attempts have left students in the United States lagging behind their peers throughout Asia and Europe. Understanding why previous attempts at reform failed plays a key role in planning a future that works for all students.

How No Child Left Behind Left Behind Both Students and Teachers

No Child Left Behind was intended to raise test scores for students across the country. This would be done by rewarding schools when scores went up. The reverse side was that schools with falling test scores would be punished. The intention behind the standardization aspect of No Child Left Behind was that it would increase graduation rates, close performance gaps, and make students in the United States more globally competitive.

The actual result was a learning environment where teachers became saddled with administrative tasks that took away from valuable classroom time. What’s more, thousands of students across the country were subject to low-performance penalties. Schools that didn’t meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks were forced to undergo costly, disruptive restructurings without offering parents adequate alternatives for bringing their children up to speed.

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How Race to the Top Doubled Down on No Child Left Behind

The Race to the Top program introduced by Barack Obama in 2009 doubled down on the punitive aspects of No Child Left Behind. Race to the Top offered states the ability to win hundreds of millions of dollars if they agreed to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, shuttered low-performing schools, and adopted Common Core. While Race to the Top was designed to boost test scores, it had the opposite effect. The program also demoralized teachers by effectively reducing them to testing administrators.

Looking at the Future of Education: Is an Obsession With Testing Eroding Student Growth?

The mandates created by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and other programs introduced within the past 20 years have placed schools in a rat race to spend billions on testing. In many districts, an emphasis is placed on updating online testing software over nurturing the minds of students based on science-based theories on how students learn. The true path to quality education for all goes back to classroom basics. It empowers teachers to manage their classrooms according to the needs of students.

It’s also known that class size matters. Based on one study, reducing class sizes by 32% was found to increase student achievement by an amount equivalent to about three additional months of schooling. However, school districts continue to pack students into classrooms at record levels. Ultimately, the answer comes down to smaller classrooms staffed with teachers unfettered by an obsession with test scores.