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Educating Yourself on No Child Left Behind Act

How To Make Sure Your Child Gets the most out of the No Child Left Behind Act

I figured that my son's middle school experience would be the same as his older sister's. They attended the same school, had the same team of teachers and were on the same academic track. However, everything about my son's coursework was different from my daughter's. Her math class focused on nothing but math. His math class included writing assignments. Her core classes complemented each other, and her teachers coordinated their projects. His core classes stood independent from each other, and there were fewer projects. We had no idea why there was a change until we asked the math teacher. "No Child Left Behind and the new requirements," she answered with a sigh.

Karen Kender of Plymouth, Minn., had a similar experience. "Up until No Child Left Behind was implemented here, sixth grade social studies spent most of the year on Minnesota history, government, etc.," she says. "My son did this in sixth grade. That was the last year that was done. My daughter is not doing it this year." Instead, Kender says, her daughter's social studies class is a review of fifth grade social studies – American history.

What's the Deal?

While most parents have at least heard of the No Child Left Behind Act, they have been given little information on the new law's expectations. According to Stacy DeBroff, author of No Parent Left Behind (Simon and Schuster, 2005), No Child Left Behind is a sweeping educational plan with the goal that no child regardless of ethnicity, gender or family income be disadvantaged in life due to the lack of a proper education. On its Web site, the Department of Education says that No Child Left Behind is designed to change the culture of America's schools by closing the achievement gap, offering more flexibility, giving parents more options and teaching students based on what works. However, some within the education field believe that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may be causing more harm than good for education.

"Increasingly, teachers are turning to cookie-cutter curriculums in an effort to teach to the standardized tests that form the benchmark of NCLB reforms," says DeBroff. "All too often, this pressure means dropping fun, creative and interactive activities because they prove too time consuming to fit into an already packed day. Instead of raising children who love to learn and solve problems creatively, we are raising a generation of terrific test-takers."

Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Gary Galluzzo, professor of education and human development at George Mason University, says, "Many teachers see the tests as constraining, fact-based, leaving little room for thinking skills." He says that one of the problems is that teachers don't see the tests before they are given, so they teach to what they believe is on the test.

Kender has seen "teaching to the test" in her children's middle school classes. "The first year of NCLB they did a lot of that, lots of 'practice tests,'" she says. "Practice tests were used as assignments in math."

Galluzzo wonders about the definition of student achievement. "Kids get an 'A,' but did they learn anything?" he asks. "Are we graduating good test takers or smart kids?"

What Can Be Done?

What can parents do to make sure that their child is one of the "smart kids" and not simply a good test taker? Get involved in your child's education, say educators. "A critical but seldom discussed part of the NCLB formula is the vital role of parents," says DeBroff. "Ironically, we are often the missing component in sweeping educational reform plans."

And getting involved won't label you a "pest," because your involvement is expected. Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships says that schools receiving Title I funds must "develop policies on partnerships and conduct programs that involve parents in ways that support student success in school. In addition, all schools must provide professional development to educators to organize effective partnership programs; help parents understand state standards and assessments; provide materials to help parents assist their children's achievement at home; and communicate using formats and languages that parents will understand."

But until parents understand what kind of education their child is getting under the auspices of NCLB, they cannot work to improve or to enhance the new requirements. That's a problem, says Galluzzo. "Parents aren't clued in," he says. Statistics seem to agree. According to the 36th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude toward Public Schools, 62 percent of parents admit to knowing very little or nothing about No Child Left Behind.

One upside to educating parents about the changing middle school curriculums based on NCLB requirements is that it gives parents the opportunity to learn more about middle school expectations, both academic and social. Epstein sites in her paper, Meeting NCLB Requirements for Family Involvement, a number of middle schools across the country that are using innovative methods to partner with parents, making sure that not only is entering middle school a smoother transition but that giving parents a better understanding of the changing curriculum is a top priority.

"The average child spends 180 days a year in school for approximately seven hours a day, totaling 1,260 hours a year," says DeBroff. "While this time is vital to student learning, consider the 7,500 hours a year your child does not spend in school. How he spends his time outside of the classroom deeply impacts his quality of learning, and your challenge is to make the most of your child's education away from school."

Under No Child Left Behind, education may become more rote and less creative, but with parents' help, we'll be graduating smart kids who can also take tests.

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