You Decide

Produced by KQED

image montage: apple, chalk and books, report card, row of empty  
school desksImage CreditHas No Child Left Behind been successful?

By Lauren Barack

Think you know where you stand?

Few policies have so dramatically charged the educational terrain in this country as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Passed in 2002, the law demands that every child be able to read and compute math at their grade level by 2014, offering free tutoring and new charter schools, among other aids, to help on the path. It also holds schools accountable for their progress, and that’s where the battle begins — pitting teachers, principals, lawmakers and parents against each other.

To NCLB’s detractors, the law does nothing more than enforce rote learning because with schools threatened with closure or staff cuts if students fail to meet academic benchmarks, teachers shift time away from noncore subjects, such as music, art, foreign languages and physical education. Instead, children are drilled on reading comprehension, mathematics tables and test-taking strategies. It begs the question: Should children spend part of their day learning to play the flute or learning how to score higher on standardized tests?

Critics of NCLB believe the policy promotes teaching to pass a test, rather than inspiring children to think for themselves, engage and explore. Although no educator or parent would argue against ensuring that all children have a chance to learn, critics believe that the NCLB policies are too standardized and that the law is unrealistic in its goals. The end result, they say, is that students are stifled instead of supported. 

Advocates say that our nation’s education system had failed for too long, and NCLB is the solution. They believe that our public schools should be accountable — that money invested in our schools should bring about results in our children. Supporters say that schools should be run no differently than businesses and that we should expect a return on our federal investments: literate children who can read, write, add and subtract. If schools can’t produce results, either they should be closed, new leadership should be brought in or students should be allowed to move to better-performing schools. After all, poor reading skills or the inability to balance a checkbook is tantamount to a handicap. Why should some children soar while others are left behind?


What do you think? During this activity, we will ask you four times: Has No Child Left Behind been successful? As you respond, we will present you with the opposite argument. Only your final vote will count toward the results of the You Decide poll.

Has No Child Left Behind been successful?

Nothing about the issues facing the candidates and American voters in 2008 is black and white. With these You Decide activities, you can explore both sides of an issue, put your own critical thinking to work, and discuss the pros and cons with others. In the end, perhaps you will ask different — and better — questions than those presented here.


Resources and credits

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