No Child Left Behind is, itself, getting left behind.
States are dropping the supposed landmark education reform law faster than kids hitting the exits at the end of the school day.
In 2001, Congress, at the urging of President Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy, passed NCLB with much bipartisan fanfare. The law required all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and penalized school systems that didn’t hit the mark.
Now, a decade later, NCLB is heading to the scrap heap that is piled high with education reform ideas.
The Obama Administration has allowed ten states to opt out of NCLB. Twenty-eight more states, including West Virginia, have applied for waivers.
West Virginia needs to get out for two reasons: the state won’t even come close to the student achievement goals of NCLB and the program wasn’t working anyway.
Schools zeroed in on math and reading, but other subjects suffered. Educators complained that social studies, art, science, vocational training and even physical education took a back seat as schools struggled to get students to hit testing marks in reading and math.
West Virginia may, indeed, get a waiver, but it should not get a pass. State School Superintendent Dr. Jorea Marple says West Virginia students will be required to meet a new set of rigorous standards.
Let’s hope so. West Virginia’s public education system is struggling to prepare students. As long-time state Senate Education Committee Chairman Bob Plymale told me, "When we give them a diploma, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for college or a career."
The wavier of No Child Left Behind, as well as the recent comprehensive audit of public education in West Virginia, should provide a convergence of forces that will propel the state’s leaders toward meaningful reform.
Public education is littered with examples of what doesn’t work. The top-down focus of No Child Left Behind is the latest failure. But there are also shining examples across the country of school systems that have cast off the bureaucracy and returned to the fundamentals of getting the best teachers in front of students and let them teach.
As Senator Plymale said, "I’m bullish on West Virginia, but our weakness is education." Let’s get serious about turning that weakness into a strength and leave the entrenched failing policies behind.