High-Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind

June 19th, 2008 by Eric Cope

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute publisehd some news today regarding the performance of children in the era of the No Child Left Behind Act. Essentially, high performing students (gifted in my day) are not as high performing as before. They speculate it is due to the amount of effort involved in educating low performing students (dumb in my day). It may be a surprise to you that if teachers are focusing on the future ditch diggers and lanscapers, they are neglecting the future doctors, engineers, and top businessmen. The phrase, “only as strong as the weakest link” comes to mind.

Its too bad we don’t have a mechanism to take our high performing students out of places that do not put forth the proper effort into educating tomorrow’s leaders. But wait, wouldn’t vouchers address that? Our economy has been based on specialization for 230 years. By allowing schools to specialize in teaching certain demographics, couldn’t schools specialize on teaching gifted students or other types?

Now, I know what it takes to run a proper DOE. I also know the extreme difficulty (if not impossibility) of running a proper DOE and establishing causality (A caused B, i.e. No Child Left Behind caused gifted kids to be dumb) and the paper states that their evidence did not demonstrate causality, just a correlation. This is an important fact to know and understand. I will close with the following quote.

The national survey findings show that most teachers, at this point in our nation’s history, feel pressure to focus on their lowest-achieving students. Whether that’s because of NCLB we do not know (though teachers are certainly willing to blame the federal law). What’s perhaps most
interesting about the teachers’ responses, however, is how committed they are to the principle that all students (regardless of performance level) deserve their fair share of attention and challenges. Were Congress to accept teachers’ views about what it means to create a “just” education system—i.e., one that challenges all students to fulfill their potential, rather than just focus on raising the performance of students who have been “left behind”—then the next version of NCLB would be dramatically different than today’s.

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