Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Unintended Consequences of No Child Left Behind Mandates on Gifted Students

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Unintended Consequences of No Child Left Behind Mandates on Gifted Students

Article excerpt

We are to provide an education adapted to the years, the capacity, and the condition of everyone ... directed to their freedom and happiness. We hope to avail the state of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivate. (1)

Thomas Jefferson, 1900, p. 276


The No Child Left Behind federal mandate (2001) did not intend to leave any children behind, nor was it designed to curb the progress of those at the top of the learning curve. However, since this law was passed, it is apparent that the focus of many schools in the United States has shifted toward providing time, attention, resources, and policies in the direction of students scoring under the 40% level of achievement in reading and mathematics. This focus is necessary in order to avoid governmental sanctions impacting school funding and parental choice to choose a different school if their child is not achieving at this level of competence. According to the Four Pillars of NCLB this law will result in stronger accountability, more freedom for states and communities, proven educational methods, and more choices for parents. (5)

Stronger accountability means that under NCLB, the states are working to make sure all students achieve academic proficiency with highly qualified teachers (HQT). There are annual state and school district report cards to let parents know how their schools are progressing. Schools that do not make the required progress must provide supportive services such as free tutoring and after-school assistance. If they do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) after five years, there will be sanctions on the schools. Such measures may involve staffing changes that include firing teachers and administrators.

Unfortunately, threat or imposed sanctions do not seem to be effective motivators for improving teaching or learning. Schools and districts where underachievement is most prevalent, most likely include American's urban population of students who are low income or minority with disadvantaged learners or those who experience low levels of home support, are most accountable. Many of these schools now face losing experienced dedicated, teachers with administrators who may understand the very needs and issues of their community of learners. These schools have teachers and administrators who realize that success is not entirely dependent upon test scores. While high stakes testing is the engine that drives NCLB, there is growing literature to suggest unintended consequences are damaging the education of our students. (6)

More freedom for states and communities allows each states and school districts flexibility in how they use federal education funds. This flexibility allows districts to use their funds for their needs whether it be hiring new teachers, increasing teacher pay, or improving training for teachers. However, most schools in their desperate zest to improve test scores for struggling students, overlook those who exceed the minimum standards. Gifted students' needs are compromised as a result of unmet levels of challenge and opportunity. This does not represent freedom for high ability students in the educational system, nor does it provide teacher incentive or support to meet gifted student's needs.

Proven education methods implement scientific research to determine which educational programs have proven to be effective. Federal funding is specifically targeted to support specific programs and different teaching methods that have been proven effective. The difficulty with this approach is the variation of what is effective for student learning. Too many U.S. schools "over-invest in testing and under-invest in capacity building." Design flaws in the law include weak knowledge and theories about how to turn around failing schools to become more accountable and academically proficient. …

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