The Problem with Education That’s Driven by Sanctions

Legislature passed during the 20th century was well-intentioned but has left 21st century education with a system featuring many nonviable aspects, and educational reform is only just now starting to figure out how to even begin to remedy history’s mistakes.

A major problem facing the nation’s school systems is that our children are over-tested, sometimes to an extreme. Still, the nation relies heavily on standardized testing as an indication that students are progressing toward established goals. Nationwide testing creates the risk of losing a broad variety of learning experiences and critical thinking instruction so valuable in high-quality education.

Testing often tends to focus on a narrow spectrum of items that can be easily assessed. However, higher-order skills such as analysis and reasoning are more critical in the real world and at the college level. Progressive teachers now are engaged in cooperative learning with students. The emphasis is on producing students who can think at a critical level and is a reflection of society’s influence.

The effectiveness of the NCLB sanctions is debatable. With so much pressure on schools, administrators, teachers, and students, it is important to understand whether the sanctions really facilitate improved performance. State tests that place teachers or administrators in some type of jeopardy—such as job retention, prestige, and income—have been compared to assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has no potential penalties. Results seemed to indicate that state assessments generally showed an upward trend, but when compared to the NAEP, the results did not correlate well.

Even states that have modest rigor in their expectations of their school system are found to be failing under the NCLB Act. Simple, cookie-cutter assessment requirements and mandatory sanctions do not allow enough flexibility in achieving improvement. It is telling to observe that, in a relatively short amount of time, most state education systems have turned away from high-pressure and serious sanction methods such as those required by NCLB. These systems now propose a method whereby moderate pressure is used to extract desired changes. This appears to produce much better results.

To learn more about why NCLB was passed in the first place and where modern educational reform is headed, check out our series of articles on the history of America’s school system and where it’s trending towards now.

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