Understanding Federal Funding Part II: Knowing the Consequences of Federal Funding

Throughout the advancement of federal funding the most commonly known fund is Title I and in 2001 through legislation the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which was implemented to ensure the development and academic success of all students regardless of socioeconomic status or race. However through the incorporation of the NCLB Act consequences have occurred impacting school districts mainly through standardized testing. This articles details the controversy behind these changes.

NCLB is intended to ameliorate school performance, as it mandates identification of schools that have not achieved state standards and requires administrators and teachers to improve student test scores at those schools. In reality, however, the adoption of NCLB has led to the deployment of statewide assessments and testing as a means of proving that federal funds are used wisely and that federally based legislation is observed in each state. Some argue that standardized testing is, in fact, necessary to prove that the money channeled into education is well spent. Most states use standardized tests to monitor both the efficacy of their educational systems and to prove that all funds, whether provided federally or locally, are used effectively. Tests are a relatively easy and inexpensive way of determining progress and allow for comparisons between students, schools, and scores. Critics of standardized tests are against using these tests to determine progress, because they capture one-time performance only and are not indicative of overall learning or skills mastery.

Due to the dictates of NCLB, each school district in the state, as well as each individual school, receives an annual state-issued report card that summarizes the schools’ performance on state assessments. The state must publish these report cards, which include a list of all schools in the state receiving improvement monies. Student demographic information (e.g., ethnicity, gender, and economic status) is included on the report card for each school and for the district as a whole. States must also divulge the disability and immigrant statuses of their students, as well as their English language proficiency levels, both oral and written. Some critics of standardized assessment feel that NCLB actually contributes to the inequalities between various schools and school districts, because states are compelled to publish results that compare and contrast schools based on their ability to meet AYP. By this measure, some schools excel, while others fail. Furthermore, critics point out that children are actually being labeled and categorized, a process that concerns many educators.

As mentioned earlier, test data are increasingly being used to judge teaching effectiveness as evidenced by students’ test scores. School districts have reacted in varying ways to the pressures on educators inherent in the overreliance on assessments required by NCLB. In 2006, the Houston Board of Education voted to establish a program to financially reward teachers and administrators if their students did well on the state-imposed standardized tests. Teachers stood to gain an additional $3,000 annually, and administrators could take home $25,000 if the students in their schools met or exceeded state standards.

Some critics argue that standardized testing, which establishes a measure of achievement based on a single test score, is unfair to the test taker and is not a true representation of ability, knowledge, skills, or achievement. Many professional educators agree and feel that standardized tests should be supplemented by multiple assessments, including elements as diverse as portfolios, presentations, interviews, and exhibitions. This process, known as authentic assessment, allows students to demonstrate proficiency with skills or a mastery of a subject matter recently addressed. Proponents of authentic assessment hope that it may help to balance the current emphasis on one-time standardized testing.

To ensure continued funding, districts and schools are driven to comply with NCLB dictates. Their actions will undoubtedly impact you as a classroom teacher. Before you even reach the classroom, districts must make sure you are a highly qualified teacher. NCLB states that all children have the right to be educated by a qualified teacher. As a result, districts will make certain that you hold a university degree and have completed a teacher education program or alternative route program. Furthermore, teachers must have a teaching license, a formal type of certification issued by the individual state. Once hired, your principal may emphasize the importance of high test scores, whether on the state-mandated assessments or on school-generated measures. Your students’ performance on the state-standardized assessments may be extrapolated as a measure of both your abilities and effectiveness as a teacher. The impulse may be to “teach to the test” to ensure that your pupils do well on the exams. However, you’ll have to judge how best to balance the performance demands required by the tests against the development of certain other types of learning. This includes aspects of the “hidden curriculum,” such as the acquisition of time management, social interactions, and study and collaboration skills, which are difficult to assess.

Over and above the standardized testing debate, some fear that accepting stimulus money will increase the amount of federal influence on education, diminishing the power of the individual states. Some states have refused to accept stimulus money for this reason. Some critics go so far as to say that federal imposition on the funding of education is in opposition to the Tenth Amendment. Although monies provided from a federal level can effectively alleviate some of the problems faced by schools and teachers today, it is wise to consider the long-range implications of competing for these funds carefully when deciding how to implement reform initiatives.

If you are an Educator, it is necessary to understand the impacts of the NCLB Act and other potential acts that may transpire due to decisions within government. As a parent or guardian, it is important to know the details behind the NCLB act and all types of federal funding methods. At the end of the day funding has a great impact on education.

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