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The Ethics of No Child Left Behind

The Ethics of No Child Left Behind

Dr. Rosanna PIttella

There has been much written on the pros and cons of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) from an educational management perspective on the return on investment of the program, and point of view of teachers, professors and students effected by it. As educators attempt to navigate the best way forward in these challenging times, it may help to know how NCLB stacks up ethically. The principal of autonomy, the right for an individual to make decisions and act independently, is one at the heart of the anxiety surrounding NCLB for many of those who have dedicated their lives to teaching. When learning by students and teaching by educators is measured nearly entirely by test scores, the dynamic of classrooms must be intentionally focused on whatever it takes to optimize them. “Teaching to the test,” the strategy adopted by many teachers in US classrooms as a result of NCLB, eliminates the freedom of an educator to spend any classroom time or energy in anything that will not appear on a standardized test taken by his or her students. This minimizes his or her autonomy, reduces a teacher to nothing more than a disseminator of prescribed information, rather than a creative, thinking, leader of study and exploration of subject matter. The autonomy of an educator is a valuable asset to be respected and protected by any school system, if it wishes to produce classes and classrooms that engage students, capture their interest and ignite their potential.

Beneficence, the responsibility to do “good,” is greatly challenged by the process and implementation of NCLB. One would have to examine each group affected by NCLB to determine what good has come to them by way of this program. There are reports that underachieving schools have improved test scores, making an assumption that higher test scores means better teaching and learning. But the complete focus on test taking has resulted in the marginalizing of subjects that do not appear on the tests. The skills required to take tests efficiently are not necessarily the same ones that would support other measures of learning such as critical thinking, scientific logic, or an understanding of social studies, art, music and other valuable things once emphasized in classrooms. Surely students whose learning has been so focused and limited cannot benefit as much as they might with a richer, more diverse curriculum.

It has already been mentioned that autonomy of teachers, perhaps the most precious aspect of teaching, has been negatively affected by NCLB, so it is hard to say that the program has resulted in goodness for them. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one of the reasons NCLB was created was to close a particular achievement gap. It states that “Forty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, some schoolchildren were taught well while others – mostly poor and minority – were left to struggle or drop out (Ed.gov). Sadly, retention especially among children of color has decreased since the inception of NCLB. The high dropout rates of students that have resulted from the punitive nature of NCLB have contributed in the eyes of many a significant increase in dropouts around the country.

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