Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Different Direction?

I think that everyone can agree that, while its intentions are noble, No Child Left Behind fails to effectively change schools for the better. Making teachers fully accountable and expecting extraordinary improvement every year is ideal, in a sense, but is far from realistic. Low test scores and high drop out rates are synonymous with the inner city, while college-bound students and scholar athletes are equated with the suburbs. Is there some great difference in the potential and ability of these children? Is there something in the water? Of course not. That would be ridiculous to suggest. No Child Left Behind states that teachers are to be accountable for their students’ success. They say this as though the majority of inner city teachers don’t care whether their students fail or succeed. Are all these previous low test scores due to the lack of effort on the part of the teacher? No. The defining difference between a successful school and one that “needs improvement” is neither the students nor the teachers; it is the environment.
I strongly believe that pressuring schools to improve scores overnight is unrealistic and, in fact, detrimental to the progress of their students. When trying to find a solution, one has to look at the root of the problem. Low inner city test scores are not a result of poor teaching or dim-witted children. It is a turbulent environment that affects inner city academics. Changes must be made in the community before improvement can be seen in the school.
If I had the chance to modify No Child Left Behind, I would not reward or punish a school for its level of academic success. Monitoring the quality of a school is important; however, tedious year by year reports only result in unwarranted criticism. Funding should not only be used to improve the quality of the classroom experience but also the quality of life outside of the school walls. If the main factor separating urban and suburban test scores is the environment, the most efficient way to improve academics is by providing students an improved quality of life. I wonder how many cities can effectively influence the surrounding community. A city is a complex ecosystem and there is no simple answer. I would be interested in learning about the programs and initiatives set in place to improve the conditions in which so many American children live. Are there state-wide programs or is it the responsibility of the city itself? Could the federal government step in and spearhead a nationwide urban renewal plan that could be beneficial the youth of the community?
Changes need to be made to improve our inner city schools, and I believe the most effective path is through the community. I want to know what ideas have been implemented. What has worked? What has failed? Why?

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