You Decide

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photo montage: student writing equations on chalk board that  
fades to blank, student playing violinImage CreditHas No Child Left Behind been successful?

  • Yes? But have you considered...
  • No? But have you considered...

… that since NCLB went into effect, students are spending large portions of their school days learning test-taking techniques at the expense of subjects that help them grow and mature intellectually?

It’s a war cry heard throughout public schools across the country — music, language and social sciences, dropped. Sports? Also in the battle zone. Fewer than 10 percent of our nation’s schools now offer daily physical education.

So what are children learning? Don’t look to the arts. While the law was certainly not written to diminish arts programs, evidence shows that since NCLB went into effect, arts programming in public schools, like physical education, has taken a hit. Why? School districts skip them to double the time they devote to math and reading, with 71 percent reporting that post-NCLB, they spend less time on subjects that aren’t mandated for testing.

Instead, students spend more time in classrooms, planted in their seats so they can practice taking exams. Is this what we imagine for our children when we talk about sparking the a love of learning?

Although these efforts give students advantages when sitting for the tests that measure against NCLB’s standards, they do very little to help children explore, experiment and create — the cornerstones of higher-order thinking.

Yes, we want children to know how to read and understand basic math computations. But most experts believe that an appreciation of other disciplines, such as music and foreign languages, or just time off to kick a ball is equally as crucial to brain development and success later in life.

Guglielmo Marconi was a layman who invented the first wireless transmitter in his attic, and he did so without a scientist’s understanding of physics. His gift? A hunger to understand how these waves went flying through the ether, combined with an eagerness to keep trying. As a child, Frank Lloyd Wright spent days on end building with blocks — and in doing so became a master of angles, tension and the beauty of form.

We owe some of the world’s important inventions and creative endeavors to child-like wonder. And that doesn’t come from forcing little hands to fill in row upon row of black dots.

… that students can’t learn subjects like social studies and science if they don’t nail down basic reading and math skills first?

Critics of No Child Left Behind are swift to argue that the drilling of math and reading skills has decreased the time left for students to study subjects like social studies and science. But how do children begin to calculate how far they are from the moon without understanding algebra? And few can understand the meaning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn if they're struggling through each page.

Just as a structure needs a strong foundation, so do students. And a community is only as strong, supporters of NCLB say, as its weakest link. If students don’t grasp the core learning blocks — reading and basic math — there’s no way to help them understand the whys and hows of science, history, music or art. Without the ability to decode words and read at their grade level by the fourth grade, students are almost assuredly guaranteed to continue to lag their peers.

Today’s high-tech environment requires that workers have mathematic skills in order to stay ahead — not to mention that they need to be able to innovate and, yes, create. Yet, as a nation, U.S. students scored lower than the international average in math and sciences as of 2006.

How can we expect our future generations to excel, to push us ahead, to be the leading innovators we expect them to be without their having the basic building blocks firmly in place? Without these skills, we are in danger of graduating entire generations of what Ed Gordon, author of The 2010 Meltdown, calls “techno-peasants” who lack the basic abilities our future will require.

With No Child Left Behind, we stay focused on making sure our students understand these core subjects so that they can take control of their own future — and also take the lead in shaping the world.


Considering this, 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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