[Susan notes: Joe Navarro is a first grade teacher and activist in
Published in Hollister Free Lance
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is failing to close the achievement gap between white and non-white students. Annual test results confirm that people of color continue to score lower than their Anglo counterparts on standardized tests and that the quality of education for Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans remains sub-standard.
The NCLB focuses its efforts on creating tougher standards, rigorous high stakes testing, a system of punishments for underperforming schools and encourages parents to pull their children out of public schools.
The NCLB also threatens to cut badly needed federal funds from schools that fail to meet the NCLB mandates.
The lowest test scores are most evident in schools with the largest Latino, African American and low-income student enrollment. These students learn in overcrowded classrooms in schools that lack adequate resources, are often taught by the most inexperienced teachers and are disadvantaged by limited resources at home. Children who are barely learning to speak and write in English are required to perform at the same academic levels as children who are completely literate in English and are often taught by teachers who the students cannot understand. Segregation is still pervasive and many teachers do not know how to teach to racially and ethnically diverse populations.
More than 30 years ago, Chicanos, African Americans and Native Americans battled local school districts to expand the curriculum. They demanded culturally relevant subjects, bilingual and bicultural education and schools that are free of harmful and racist practices. Conscious and meaningful efforts were made to address the question of inequality in education.
At least back then, local school districts could be pressured to do the right thing. Now, the power over education has been steadily been siphoned away by the federal and state government. School districts are struggling to meet underfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, with overcrowded classrooms and dwindling resources. Consequently, the inequality continues.
In practice, the NCLB has restricted people of color to receive more remedial education, drill-n-skill instruction and rote memorization where art, music, science and other subjects are sacrificed. These students are often not challenged with learning that elevates their higher-order thinking skills or problem solving skills. The NCLB does not adequately address the need to distribute resources equitably so that the most disadvantaged students can be sufficiently prepared for school. Also, while schools may be punished under the guidelines of the NCLB for having low test scores, there are no penalties for fostering racial and ethnic segregation or other harmful racist practices.
In order to close the achievement gap, it will be necessary to provide greater resources to students who need them most. The point is to provide children with the educational support they need to become successful learners, from increasing school resources to providing education opportunities for teachers to improve their ability to teach ethnically diverse children.
Schools must meet the cultural and linguistic needs of students, and expose students to a wide range of disciplines. Children need a holistic education that includes literature, mathematics, art, music, geography, social studies, history and physical education.
Every school should create a welcoming environment that celebrates the heritages of all its students and their families.