In 2002, then US President George W Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law. No Child Left Behind was the US equivalent of the National Standards that New Zealand’s National-led Government has imposed on primary and intermediate schools – in fact it was the model upon which National Standards were based.
In the US there is increasing evidence that No Child Left Behind is a failure:
Over the years, the law became increasingly unpopular, itself blamed for many ills in schools. Teachers and parents complained it led to “teaching to the test”. Parents didn’t like the stigma of sending their kids to a school labeled a failure when requirements weren’t met. States, districts and schools said the law was too rigid and that they could do a better job coming up with strategies to turn around poor performance.
A common complaint was that the 2014 deadline was simply unrealistic.
As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that’s because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it’s also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass.
The increasing dissatisfaction with No Child Left Behind came to a head last Thursday, when President Obama exempted 10 States from their compliance requirements. Schools in those States will be free to assess students with methods other than test scores and will be able to factor in subjects beyond reading and mathematics.
There are another 29 States, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, also in the process of applying for exemptions. I expect most of them will be granted, and that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the failed ideological experiment that is No Child Left Behind.
New Zealand’s new Education Minister, Hekia Parata, could do well to heed the lessons from the United States. The concerns that school principals, the NZ Educational Institute, Boards of Trustees and educational academics, as well as the Green Party, have been expressing about National Standards here are exactly the same concerns that have led to the discrediting, and now the impending demise, of No Child Left Behind in the US.