Congress and the Obama administration should use the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to promote more consistent and rigorous academic standards across states, as well as more consistent and relevant teacher qualification requirements, according to a new Rand Corporation report.
The report finds that the flexibility provided for in the Elementary and Secondary Act – which originated in 1965 and was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2001 – has expanded the patchwork of accountability systems across states. The result is 52 separate systems, each with different academic standards, levels of student proficiency and requirements for teacher certification.
The Rand recommendations follow several years of study and evaluation conducted by Rand and others for the U.S. Department of Education. The nonprofit research institution has examined the impacts of the No Child Left Behind law on teachers, schools, school districts and at the state level.
While the legislation generally has helped schools focus on improvement and helped states put into place accountability systems, researchers say the goal of 100 percent proficiency among students in reading and mathematics by 2014 is unattainable.
The report also recommends expanding the focus from just two academic areas – reading and mathematics – to include other school curricula, such as science, social studies and the arts.
Researchers say that the states’ reliance on traditional student tests has resulted in a narrowing of school curricula, encouraging teachers to focus on some students at the expense of others and discouraging the development of higher-thinking and problem-solving skills.
The report recommends that Congress eliminate the requirement that all schools achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014, since it is unattainable and may discourage further improvement efforts on the part of principals and teachers. The current improvement targeting structure should be changed by setting more appropriate goals that incorporate growth measures and use alternative accountability approaches.
Co-author Georges Vernez said lawmakers should maintain the school choice option in No Child Left Behind, but that they should recognize it has a limited likelihood of providing a means for families to gain a better education for their children. Lawmakers should continue to focus efforts on improving low-performing schools.
The report also recommends that Congress consider the following changes:
- Provide incentives for teachers of proven capability to teach in low-performing schools, such as a higher salary or lower class loads.
- Allow for a more-flexible system of interventions that enables states and districts to identify and prioritize which schools are most in need, and to design interventions and consequences to address their particular needs.
- Broaden staff development beyond academic content and effective instruction to include approaches to problem solving, the development of interventions geared to the problems identified, and tools and practices for effective implementation of interventions.
- Commit more resources to find better instructional methods and programs, especially for students with limited English proficiency and learning disabilities.
The report, “Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind: Facts and Recommendations,” is based mainly on two earlier studies – the National Longitudinal Study of No Child Left Behind (NLS–NCLB) and the Study of State Implementation of Accountability and Teacher Quality Under No Child Left Behind (SSI–NCLB) – led by Rand in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research and the National Opinion Research Center. Both studies were funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
The full report can be found at www.rand.org.