How can the No Child Left Behind Act be better implemented to be responsive to the material and psychosocial conditions faced by families in poverty?
Although NCLB was a cornerstone of President Bush's educational policy, and it claimed to improve access to education for poorer students, there are many grounds on which it has been criticized by educators, including the way it penalizes students from families living in poverty or lacking social and cultural capital.
First, because it uses standardized assessments, it tends to penalize both teachers and students in poor neighborhoods. While often differential school performance of both teachers and students can be attributed to the socioeconomic challenges students face, schools in poorer neighborhoods, with fewer resources are often penalized for scoring badly on standardized assessments. Even worse, many forms of standardized tests favor children brought up in linguistically and culturally enriched environments. An additional problem is the NCLB has been linked to the growth of charter schools, which draw top students and money away from the general public school system.
To fix these issues, the first step would be to invest less money in the accountability bureaucracy and more money in providing extra support for lower income students in the form of preschool, after-school programs and tutoring. Next, especially for students for whom English is not spoken at home or students with family or behavioral issues that might impact academic performance, small class sizes and experienced teachers are a key to helping academic performance. Money spent on high stakes testing and assessment bureaucracy is money taken away from actual teaching, and the need to game the NCLB system forces schools into narrow forms of "teaching to the test" rather than offering a wide range of classes that might prepare students for well-paid skilled jobs that are in demand.
Unfortunately, the NCLB and other forms of accountability bureaucracy combined with low salaries compared to other careers with comparable traing requirements have contributed to a 50 percent attrition rate among teachers within the first five years of entering the profession. Incentives to increase teacher retention might also be helpful.