Sunday, January 4, 2015

Essay: No Child Left Behind vs. Race to the Top

This essay was originally written in 2012. It compares No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top.

In the United States of America, politics often affect the education system.  The government may attempt to improve the education for all students; however, different actions are perceived differently by different individuals. There may not be a clear answer as to how the government should control the education system, but there are currently two federal education initiatives that are often discussed and spark debates.  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) are two important topics that come up when discussing education and politics.  The debates surrounding No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top focus on standards and assessments, data and accountability, effective teachers and principals, and ways of turning around low-performing schools.

The No Child Left Behind Act is defined as “a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [of 1995, which] places heavy emphasis on accountability through standards and high-stakes testing” (Wright 314).  No Child Left Behind is a law that was initiated by George W. Bush in 2001.   It is an unfunded mandate with a purpose to close achievement gaps.  It uses standardized test, which assesses all state standards.  The goal of NCLB is to reach one-hundred percent of Adequate Yearly Progress by 2014.  Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is defined as “the amount of progress a school or school district must make each year toward reaching target objectives under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  [It is] determined mainly by student scores on state-wide tests” (Wright 311).  If a school or district does not meet AYP, those schools must be identified and “follow a step-by-step process for either turning those schools around or closing them” (Lohman).  No Child Left Behind attempts to improve the education system, but there are numerous positives and negatives to the law.
A positive to the No Child Left Behind bill is that it gives students choices.   Test scores have tended to increase since NCLB was put into place, but if a school does not meet AYP for two consecutive years, a student can transfer schools, receive tutoring, or attend after-school programs (Wharmby-Sheldon).  The concept of choice ultimately helps students originally with a disadvantage.  “Depending on how school choice programs are designed, they can level the playing field by giving low-income or minority students access to a high-quality education otherwise unobtainable” (Moyer).  In the end, some students will have a chance to receive a better quality of education.
Supporters of No Child Left Behind claim that schools are being held more accountable for their teachers, which produces better results (Wharmby-Sheldon).  Although this idea sounds great to many, it does bring up a counterargument.  There are many reasons that may lead to a student doing poorly on a standardized test.  A student could be highly intelligent, but do very poor on the testing.  For example, some students may not try hard on standardized tests.  A student may not have received a good night’s sleep before the test.  Students could have personal issues outside of school resulting in them to not be focused on the test.  The list of reasons is endless.  Should the teachers really be held accountable for something that may be out of their reach?  The debate is continuous.

Perhaps the biggest downside to No Child Left Behind is its goal of one-hundred percent adequate yearly progress.  While having all schools be completely proficient sounds like a great thing, the goal is nearly impossible.  There is always going to be schools who receive less funding than others, which impacts how students perform.  The intentions of perfect AYP may be well, but it is very unrealistic.

Another con for No Child Left Behind is that some schools try to skew various figures in order to make them look better (Wharmby-Sheldon).  Some schools will do whatever it takes to have good scores because it leads to more funding.  Some schools have even been caught cheating.

President Barack Obama was critical of No Child Left Behind, and announced a new program in 2009 called Race to the Top, “which provides $4.3 billion in competitive grants states can apply for to begin education reform efforts” (Wright 67).  States receiving the stimulus funding and states that apply for the Race to the Top grants must follow requirements to use the funds.  In Foundations for Teaching English Language Learners: Research, Theory, Policy, and Practice, the four general requirements:
1. Adopt internationally benchmarked standards that prepare students for success in college and the workplace, and high quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students.
2. Recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals.
3. Increase transparency by building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.
4. Support effective intervention strategies to turn around the lowest-performing schools. (Wright 67)
Race to the Top is a policy that is voluntary, but can result in grants.  Its main goal is to turn around low performing schools.  It focuses heavily on teacher quality and teacher evaluation.  RTTT also attempts to improve standards and assessment.  Rather than adequate yearly progress, RTTT has an assess value added assessment system (VAAS), which measures the influence of an academic unit on the academic growth of an individual student or groups of students over time.  Race to the Top is growth-value added.  Like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top also has several pros and cons.
It is a positive that all students must have qualified teachers with Race to the Top.  Even standards are even being revamped to potentially improve education quality.  “The teacher evaluations will now give great weight to student academic growth as measured by testing. Measures of student growth count for at least half an educator’s rating” (Downey). On the other hand, while RTTT attempts to improve teacher quality, it can be argued that it also puts the pressure on the teachers.

One negative to Race to the Top is that teachers will be rewarded for having a smarter students rather than better instruction.  For example, a school district could have really intelligent students.  The teacher of a class could not teach a thing all year, but his job security is better because his students are acing the standardized test.

No Child Left Behind will be ending soon, and Race to the Top could be implemented next.  There may be no clear answer as to which idea is better.  Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama had intentions to improve the educational system.  It is unclear as to which method will bring out the better results, as there will always be a debate when politics and education overlap.  For now, educators must follow whichever policies or laws are in effect and strive to be the best and most effective teacher as possible.  The goal of a teacher is to provide the best education possible, as that concept will be a policy that everybody can agree on and never change.

Works Cited
Downey, Maureen. "New Race to the Top Teacher Evaluations with Strong Reliance on Test Scores Begin in 2014-2015." AJC. N.p., 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 May 2013. <>.

Lohman, Judith. Comparing No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. OLR Research Report, 4 June 2010. Web. 6 May 2013. <>.

Moyer, Bill. "Debating No Child Left Behind." NOW. PBS, 17 Oct. 2003. Web. 06 May 2013. <>.

Wharmby-Sheldon, Kate. "Pros and Cons of No Child Left Behind." N.p., 22 Mar. 2011. Web. 07 May 2013. <>.

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