When NCLB Standards Meet Reality


Email Sandra Nichols

  "...having high standards is currently thought to be some kind of magic bullet. Certainly nobody wants low standards. However, merely raising the bar does not make a pole-vaulter able to jump higher."


h, you California Public Schools! How you influence the day to day existence of so many million people! Your functions are great; your style diverse; your product irreplaceable. The people are counting on you.

Yet you are run by mere mortals.

From the President down to local school boards nationwide, "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB — dubbed "nickelbee") is affecting important changes, bringing certain issues to the forefront.

I like the sound of NCLB. It brings to mind a scene in which a teacher bends over a struggling student to provide the encouragement and assistance that little person needs in order not to be left behind in our educational system. Were all for it!

In fact, few aspects of NCLB are that cozy.

A basic summary of NCLB provisions would include accountability and standards, which the State of California has been addressing in their development of standards and the STAR program.

One of the first things that we learned about NCLB during a presidential address was that all children would read at 3rd grade level by 3rd grade. Now I was immediately taken aback by this statement. I said to myself, "All children? Reading at grade level? That, my friend, is a fantastic dream!" Have you ever heard of the range of human abilities? The Bell Curve?

Now, having high standards is currently thought to be some kind of magic bullet. Certainly nobody wants low standards. However, merely raising the bar does not make a pole-vaulter able to jump higher.

Along with accountability and standards, NCLB has tentacles that wrap around various other aspects of a school. Information about the details trickles down to the people as individual children, schools and their programs become affected.

Take, for example, the way it has recently surfaced in the news locally that schools are required by NCLB to turn over student information to the military for recruitment purposes. No matter what an individual's perception is with regards to this nation's military, I suspect that people want to know if and when this is going to affect them.

Parents have the right to opt-out of this reporting procedure. Personally, I want there to be no communication breakdown here. Regulations permit student information (name, address, phone number) to be made available to the military unless you let the school know that you object. I invite you to email me, sandra@education-matters.com if you experience difficulty.

Another interesting aspect of NCLB is Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Briefly, California says AYP is the annual progress sufficient to have all students reach proficient levels on the California Standards Test (CST) or the High School Exit Exam (HSEE) by the year 2014. The California School Board Association (CSBA) reports that "California Department of Education simulations indicate that all schools in California will fail to meet this definition of AYP by 2014."

YIKES! Can you imagine all schools being tainted by failure to attain the unattainable!

NCBL goes on to prescribe sanctions, which are commonly referred to in education circles as the stick without the carrot, because funding does not follow the newly required performance criteria.

To learn more about NCLB's features, I went on line to www.ed.gov, clicked on NCLB and read about the "Troops to Teachers" program "which encourages former military personnel to become classroom teachers." An interesting plan.

Meanwhile, back at the schools, the bell rings. Teachers proceed in their tasks of stimulating young minds, communicating with parents, learning new programs, completing the required forms. The list is a mile long. And the students go about their business rarely worrying about NCLB, AYP, CSBA, HSEE or CST.

Some students are learning more about how the schools are run. Some students visit school board meetings and see first hand how 7 locally elected mere mortals make the decisions, which affect so many. Three of our local students attend regularly, our student trustees. These young people represent their high school classmates at the board table. In this role students learn about governance. They also share vital information about the student perspective.

Student trustees provide a reality check and a constant reminder to all present that real young people are those most affected by the education system we help create. They help one visualize the classroom, lest it be forgotten in a sea of acronyms. The classroom is where the real action is. Assisted by other members of the educational team, the teacher is the spark, which ignites the flame, the love of learning to last a lifetime.

Sandra Nichols is President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 20,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2003