No Child Left Behind Term Paper

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[. . .] This holds true especially for English language students and special education students. School districts that continuously fail to post improvements will face sanctions. Principals and teachers in such "underperforming" schools could be suspended, removed or replaced. The No Child Left Behind Act also makes provisions allowing state to take over underperforming schools. Additionally, federal funding could be withheld for underperforming schools ("U.S. Department of Education").

To measure improvement, the No Child Left Behind Act relies largely on annual tests. One of the provisions of this Act would be to require annual state-administered examination for all children in grades 3 to 8. These state-administered tests would provide educators with a measurable goal to strive towards ("U.S. Department of Education"). The tests also give evaluators a standardized method to assess improvement in reading and math skills.

The Achievement Gap

These tests form the basis for closing the "achievement gap" that exists between privileged students and disadvantaged, and often minority students. After all, statistics have shown that American education is being stratified according to racial and class lines. This "achievement gap" is seen in the lower graduation rates, lower SAT scores and generally poorer performance among minority children and children from lower-income school districts.

The scholastic achievement gap starts as early as pre-school. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor (cited in Jacobson 2001) shows that by kindergarten and first grade, children of African-American, American Indian and Latino heritage exhibit lower levels of school awareness compared to white and Asian children of the same age. These tests measure factors such as the mastery of oral language, pre-mathematics and pre-reading skills. In addition, African-American, American Indian and Latino children also who lower levels of general knowledge.

By the time children get to the early elementary grades, the discrepancy worsens. By first grade, many African-American children are a year behind their white counterparts in terms of vocabulary knowledge. For many children, this trend will often continue. Studies by Jacobson et al. (2001) show that black children learn less than their white peers through every year of schooling. Thus, the typical vocabulary knowledge of a black 17-year-old student is often comparable to that of the average white 13-year-old student (Jacobson 2001).

The gap in basic reading skills has important consequences as the student moves on to higher elementary grade levels. Reading skills are the foundation for more advanced instruction, in subjects like mathematics, social studies, language arts and science. By fourth grade, instruction in public school shifts from teaching basic skills to teaching more analytical subjects. Studies such as Jacobson et al. (2001) have found that from middle elementary to high school, students from low-income African-American and Hispanic families post lower standardized test scores and lower report card grades in all areas of instruction, not only reading.

In mathematics, for example, studies conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (cited in Jacobson 2001) found that the average nine-year-old African-American child scored lower in mathematics and science standardized tests. This gap remains statistically significant until the typical student leaves high school at age 17. To further illustrate this data, on the average, the standardized test scores of the typical African-American student ranks below 75% of their Caucasian peers.

These achievement gaps can also be seen in the SAT scores, which are largely used as determinants for a student's higher education chances. Jacobson (2001) found that African-American students scored 91 points lower in the SAT verbal section and 106 points lower in the mathematics section. These figures represent a significant increase from the early 1990s, when the reading gap only consisted of 30 points. The figures also indicate a worsening trend.

Addressing the achievement gap

The No Child Left Behind Act ostensibly addresses this achievement gap by monitoring their school's general performance in standardized testing scores. In schools with a large population of disadvantaged students, the law requires states to make yearly progress reports. Schools that have been identified as "needing improvement" will be required to make "adequate progress" in a maximum of two years. If not progress is made, then states will be responsible for a series of corrective actions, such as replacement of personnel. In many cases, schools where students fail to show improvements in test scores will lose federal funding. The disadvantaged students in underperforming schools will thus be given an option to use federal funding to transfer to higher-performing schools. This "choice" option allows students from an underperforming school to transfer to a school that is deemed as "better" ("U.S. Department of Education" 2002).

In summary, the No Child Left Behind Act was born out of a need to address the achievement gap, through public education. The next section applies a Marxist analysis as to why the law has so far failed to lessen this gap and to bring about greater social equity.

Marxist analysis of the No Child Left Behind Act

Early statistics regarding the first two years of the No Child Left Behind Act indicate that this program is largely a failure. In 2003-2004, for example, almost 31% of all public schools in the United States failed to make "adequate progress" as measured in their standardized tests. This translates to 27,526 schools around the country. Twenty-nine states have requested Congress for waivers and more funding to cover the costs of much-needed school reform. Six other states are discussing bills to opt themselves out of the No Child Left Behind Act. Though this measure will mean the return of all related federal funding, it will also mean that these states will avoid the penalties levied for underperformance in standardized tests ("A look at the No Child Left Behind Act" 2004).

Marxist analysis of the premises behind and the application of the No Child Left Behind Act shows that the law addresses the problem of the achievement gap from the wrong perspective. The underperformance of disadvantaged children is blamed largely on the failure of the educators. However, this analysis ignores the many sociological factors that go into inequalities that are built into the American educational system.

Experts have identified several factors that give rise to the gap in achievement scores between Caucasian and minority students. The most pervasive of these factors are socio-economic in nature. The different social class backgrounds between African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian families are responsible for the gap in cognitive skills during kindergarten. Part of the reason is that a child's vocabulary develops through constant parental stimulation. A Marxist analysis would thus point out that parents who have to work at two or more jobs cannot always devote time to activities like bedtime reading and talking to their children.

Corollary to this, Farkas (2003) observed that a higher percentage of African-American and Hispanic children get placed into special education or held back a grade. This could be partly attributed to the initial gap in their early cognitive skills, as well as continuing financial difficulties at home.

Within classrooms, first and second grade teachers generally group together students who are considered good readers and those who are deemed to need more effort.

However, another insidious factor behind this phenomenon is racism, and the role that schools are expected to play in maintaining the status quo. A classical Marxist analysis would emphasize the class aspects in this equation. However, dominance in society could also refer to other factors, such as race and ethnicity. In relegating more minority children to special education or lower educational grades, schools thus help maintain racial status quo by "tracking" minority students to less rigorous academic programs.

Marxist analysis would also look to factors outside the schools themselves. Residential segregation, according to Farkas (2003), could also come into play. This is because many teachers in schools with a high minority population treat their students as if they belong to low ability groups. As a result, these students are given a less-demanding curriculum and graduate with much less knowledge than their counterparts from other schools.

In addition to outright discrimination, complex problems like generating resources also reinforce the achievement gap between the races. Currently, most of the revenues for school districts are generated locally, through property taxes. The "housing segregation" between poorer and more affluent communities thus has consequences for the per pupil expenditures of different school districts. Communities with higher concentrations of African-American and Hispanic populations tend to have lower expenses per pupil (Farkas 2003).

Thus, a Marxist analysis would state that economic resources determine a student's other life chances. Access to more affluent school districts meant that a richer student would get a better quality of education. Meanwhile, minority students are relegated to underperforming schools. This inequality early in life forms the basis for more lasting social inequity later in life. In this way, Marx would state that educational policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act contribute to a "false consciousness" and towards the maintenance of a status quo.

Researchers have suggested that hiring teachers with strong qualifications should be the basis for addressing the growing gap in the test scores… [END OF PREVIEW]

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No Child Left Behind.  (2004, October 31).  Retrieved February 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/child-left-behind/3543371

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