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Better Planning for Education

By Ronald K. Kamdem

When Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker promised five dollars to the student who could name the vice president of the United States, the fifth grade class at the Newton Street School of Humanities was stumped. “George Bush” was the closest answer that Mr. Booker heard, before he was forced to put his money away.

For the past seven years, Newton Street School of Humanities has not met federal testing benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) . What’s worse, neither the federal government or the state government seems prepared to offer specific recommendations for improving school standards other than a complete overhaul.

NCLB aims to improve the achievement in secondary schools through standards, assessments, and specific requirements of accountability. It demands that all students perform at a proficient level in reading, mathematics, and science by the year 2014 . It requires that the adequate yearly progress (AYP) of each school increase at such a rate to attain proficiency by 2014 . It even provides sanctions for schools that do not meet their AYP as defined by each individual state. However, NCLB does not require each state to have a viable plan for improving schools standards beyond quick fix solutions.

Ignoring the fact that NCLB was under funded by 12 billion in 2006, one of the biggest problems with the program is that it does not put enough emphasis on rehabilitating schools once they have been deemed in need of improvement. Instead of allowing states complete freedom to fix failing schools, NCLB should put more pressure on the states to spend time and resources on innovative ways to improve failing schools. Each state should be mandated to have a general restructuring plan with specific steps that each school should follow in order to improve standards of education. This plan should be our first defense against failing schools, not the threat of being closed down by the federal government.

While identifying which schools are in need of improvement and which schools aren’t is a task in itself, the bigger battle in revamping the education system is how to improve the standard of teaching and learning in those failing schools.

One of the things that has helped the Newton Street High School is its partnership with the Newark Teacher Union and Seton Hall University. Seton Hall has provided faculty members with free I.B.M laptops, and undergraduates from Seton tutor kids at Newton. Such initiatives should be standard recommendations for any school in need of improvement.

We also have to look past administrative issues when improving school standards. If a school is deemed in need of improvement for 2 consecutive years or more, NCLB prescribes improvements ranging from better teachers to a massive restructuring of the school that may include reopening the school as a charter school and replacing most or all of the staff . However, NCLB does not include some provisions that are aimed directly at the task of fostering a learning environment. Where are the mandatory art programs and after school tutoring programs? Leaving this task up to the state alone without a mandate is a mistake. Under-funded states facing great difficulty in trying to meet the testing standards without adequate resources will completely overlook this issue.

NCLB has overemphasized testing and accountability, and it has also overlooked some of the other things that are vital to the education of students. When restructuring a school in need of improvement, tutoring programs, after school programs, strong extracurriculars should also be required on top of the new classrooms and the new administrators. One valuable resource that is untapped by secondary schools is alumni. Each school should be pressured to have an alumni registrar. Alumni should be encourage to stay involved in these struggling schools by joining a parents board, by teaching, by giving speeches, or through volunteering. If kids aren’t focused in school because they feel that they have no future, what better way to bring their future to their faces then by having someone who has been through the same educational system and is living a successful life in society.

It is understandable that the federal government is constrained by its resources. It is logistically unfeasible for the federal government to closely monitor how each state plans to improve the standard of the school that are deemed in need of improvement. However, the federal government can mandate a plan of action from each state to ensure that a fostering learning environment plays an important role in educational reform.

Accountability through testing has been the driving force behind secondary educational reform in the past decade. From the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 to the No Child Left Behind Act of today, the federal government has put more pressure on states to develop tests that can be used to measure the proficiency of students in various topics . Unfortunately, the educational reform has overlooked some of the other things that are vital to the education of students. If all it took to improve the standard of learning in secondary schools were massive overhauls, then we would have had those high standards a couple billion dollars ago.

Ronald K. Kamden ’10, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House.

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