For a long time in the US, students with learning disabilities and other problems were largely left to their own devices. If they didn’t learn… Too bad!
The school system had very little incentive one way or another to make sure the student was able to know what they were supposed to. Many teachers stepped up to do the right thing and help their students, but teachers are busy too and some just did not have the time to always be helping the students falling behind. And on top of that, the schools got federal funding either way!
No Child Left Behind
Enter the “No Child Left Behind” act. This act was signed into law in 2001 by President George Bush. This law required yearly testing to make sure that students met certain standards; these standards were set by the states. This was a step in the right direction, but it took two steps back in other ways: the standard for success was absolute, and not all students learn the same way. So even if a student was learning a lot (relative to their past success) they could still be deemed “failing students.” I think everyone can see the problem with this. When you have an absolute standard, some people will fall on one side or the other; people don’t always neatly fall in boxes set by states.
Common Core is another measure that education has taken in order to try and save American education. Common Core was designed as a way to make sure that all schools across the US have exactly the same standards of education and timeline; if you moved from Philadelphia to LA, your LA school would be picking up right where Philly left off. Does Common Core work? Well… That depends on who you ask. Some teachers like it, some hate it… But it has accomplished much of what it was intended to do. Over 26 states have released their test scores, and over a 5-year period those test scores have gone up. Expectations are raised and standardized, and scores are improving. No Child Left Behind has seen NO upswing in student scores, and is not likely to in the future.
Charter schools were another target of No Child Left Behind. Charter schools get government funding, just like a public school, but they often have high admission requirements and (sometimes) offer a better education. However, charter schools are home to a host of problems as well. Under ‘No Child Left Behind’, if you are in a school that you deemed “low-performing,” you had the right to transfer to another school that would help you more. This has led to a host of white urban children exiting the public school system and going into the charter school system instead. Charter schools typically have a very low number of special education students, who deserve a good education as much as anyone else. Many critics of charter schools have pointed to them as an example of resegregation of the school system.
Now, this is not to say that Charter schools don’t do a lot of good. Many charter schools actually offer an education that is superior to many public schools! However, the reason that so many exist is a symptom of a major problem in the educational system. We don’t need a school system that allows white middle class children to flee the school system en masse, leaving lower income and minority students (no matter how smart!) behind in the public education system. Common Core has taken great strides to improve the overall focus of schools and make sure that everyone has a decent education. No Child Left Behind had noble intentions; schools should not be allowed to let struggling students falter just so they can move on to the more high-performing students. However, the methods of testing students according to a solid, unmovable standard is not a good idea either. None of the proposed solutions seemed to work. However, Common Core has taken the good elements of NCLB (the attention to underperforming students) and has created a way that ALL students are able to work well. More attention is paid to strides in performance and the relative amount that a student has learned; not just their standardized test scores.
Too Little Too Late
The No Child Left Behind Act was met with overwhelming dislike in 2015, even though it passed with bipartisan support initially. The promised improvements just weren’t happening. The “Every Student Succeeds” act replaced NCLB in the wake of many negative calls to action from teachers. Schools that failed under the NCLB but were actually successful often got waivers from the Federal government; however, the government often issued standards and requirements that the school had to meet.
At the root of all of this is that people are different. Everyone learns a different way. Just because the standardized test shows you don’t know much doesn’t actually prove too much; you may not be good at math, but you might have a really great computer science mind! You may not love English composition (and therefore not do too well!) but you might be a brilliant business person! It is time that schools realize that not EVERYONE can be categorized under a set of government regulations that define success. People need to learn, and we need a way to approximately measure that, but you do not need to measure that through a single set of standards. That is the easy way out! We don’t know the answer yet, but it is WORTH it for our children to learn the way THEY learn best!