Hot Topic: New Jersey's Exemption from the Rules of No Child Left Behind

Hot Topic: New Jersey's Exemption from the Rules of No Child Left Behind

 The Obama administration last week granted 10 states, including New Jersey, a waiver from complying with No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s well-intentioned, but often criticized attempt at national education reform. The 10-year-old law, with its strict and broad requirements, mandated all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Detractors included among its flaws an unrealistic

Drew Gitomer

Drew Gitomer

deadline, a one-size-fits-all approach to reforming education, a propensity to cause teaching to the test ,and the labeling of schools as “failures” if students made “insufficient” progress toward the legislation’s goals. To win the waiver, states submitted a blueprint to improve student achievement. 

Professor Drew Gitomer is the Rose and Nicholas DeMarzo Chair in Education at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education. Prior to Rutgers, he was a researcher at the Educational Testing Center where he led the Understanding Teacher Quality Center. Gitomer’s work centers on assessment of teaching, teaching evaluation and related policy issues for teaching and teacher education. His current research focuses on concepts related to teaching quality, including the quality of classroom interactions, teacher knowledge and beliefs, and student achievement.

Rutgers Today: New Jersey asked for and received a waiver this week from the state for certain NCLB requirements? What does this mean?

  New Jersey asked for a waiver from some of the specific administrative requirements while still stating its intent to follow the spirit of No Child Left Behind. Obtaining relief from unhelpful requirements is certainly reasonable. Whether a better solution will come out of this will depend on the nature of the new requirements that the state puts in place, requirements that will be developed now that the waiver is approved. Christie’s vision of education reform includes plans to reward high-performing schools and force underperformers to remove ineffective teachers, as well as to remove teachers’ lifetime tenure

Rutgers Today: Why was No Child Left Behind enacted?

Gitomer: No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001 with wide bipartisan support because it was viewed as addressing achievement gaps in educational performance with two primary initiatives. The first focused on annually measuring and reporting student performance by mandating state achievement tests in math and English language arts in grades 3-8. Of particular note, reporting was disaggregated by subgroups so that schools needed to attend to the achievement of all students, particularly those who were members of low performing groups. Schools were expected to have all students become “proficient” by 2014 and they were required to be on a trajectory towards proficiency by having all subgroups meet what is known as Annual Yearly Progress of AYP.

The second  initiative was to ensure that all teachers met some basic requirements set forth by the state, typically including passing a licensure test in the subject areas in which teachers would be teaching. This was intended to eliminate the practice of hiring teachers on emergency certifications or teaching subjects for which they had no content background, which happened much more in schools that had large numbers of poor and minority students.

Rutgers Today: What are NCLB's shortcomings? Should it be considered a failure? 

Gitomer: While the goals of improving achievement and ensuring a qualified teaching force for all studen

Classroom 2

ts were readily agreed to across the political spectrum, NCLB has not had the success that many proponents had hoped for. Not surprisingly, there are now attempts to dramatically revise the implementation of NCLB at the same time preserve the original goals. Key shortcomings of NCLB include:

  • The mandate that all students would be proficient. While such an aspiration is politically attractive, the idea that any institution in any field would be held accountable for “proficient” performance of all its participants is not viable. The inevitable result is that the idea of proficiency will be dumbed down and that significant gaming of the system would occur. There is substantial evidence that both occurred.
  • The overemphasis on testing as a means to improve education. Test information can be useful, but teachers, principals, and school districts were unlikely to change their practice without more support in knowing what to do. The original plan for NCLB included much greater funding to support educational improvement, but very little beyond the test requirements was actually funded.

The original goal of NCLB to ensure that all students would meet rigorous academic standards by 2014. By any measure that has not happened.

Rutgers Today: If schools are evaluated by how students do on tests, why is "teaching to the test" criticized?

Gitomer: If you tested students on those things that were the most highly valued outcomes in education, then teaching to the test would make good sense – just as athletes, dancers, and musicians practice the same skills they will use in a competition. In education, teaching to the test is problematic in two ways. First, the tests themselves do not get at many of the most important educational outcomes that we want students to learn. There are few assessments, for example, that will ask a student to make an argument around some important concepts.  Second, the fact that only math and ELA are tested subjects has resulted in a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum in many schools and districts. Subjects including social studies, science and the arts have been increasingly marginalized.


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