Is the No Child Left Behind Act Adversely Impacting the Academic Performance of Latino Students in the U.S.? Yes, Indeed!

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Introduction

The United States was founded on the principles of democracy and for over two hundred years, the majority of its citizens have benefited from living in a democratic society. However, there exists a growing number of Americans who are not enjoying the fruits of a democracy, but instead are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the status quo. In general, it is the poor minority groups, namely, African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos that feel disenfranchised. Although there has been some progress made in the advancement of minority groups as can be seen in Senator Barack Obama's bid for the presidency, minority groups, in general, are still encountering difficulties in their quest for attaining and maintaining a better way of life. Research reveals that many minorities still live in poverty, live in segregated communities, and drop out of school at a higher rate than Whites (College Scholarship 2006; Orfield 2001; National Education Association 2003).

In its most recent attempt to improve the quality of education in the United States, the Federal Government passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110) or NCLB. This federal legislation seeks to improve the performance of primary and secondary schools in the U.S. by: a) increasing the standards of accountability for schools, school districts, and states; b) affording parents the opportunities to select which schools they wish their children to attend; and c) requiring states to develop assessments in basic skills to be administered to all students in particular grades (NCLB 2001). Proponents of NCLB argue that it has helped to narrow the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students because it has focused attention on the academic achievement of traditionally under-represented groups of children, namely, African Americans and Latinos, and by so doing has encouraged school districts to devise and implement appropriate interventions. Second, its supporters believe that systematic testing improves the quality of education because it places a spotlight on the schools that are not teaching basic skills effectively. They believe that once low performing schools are identified, measures can be taken to transform them into high performing schools. Third, supporters of NCLB contend that the improvements made in administration, curriculum development, instruction, and business practices are the result of a reliance on assessment data to formulate all decisions (NCLB 2001).

Although NCLB has garnered support from some politicians, the No Child Left Behind Act has generated criticism in the sociopolitical and pedagogical arenas. The major criticism associated with this legislation is that it may cause states to lower achievement goals or manipulate test results in order to ensure that more students pass the exams. A second criticism of NCLB is that it encourages teachers to teach to the test. With the pressure of having students pass a standardized test, teachers may be inclined to teach only the content that will be assessed on the test. Another criticism surrounding NCLB is that it narrows the curriculum being taught in schools (Whelan 2006). Currently, NCLB focuses only on mathematics, reading, or language arts. As a result, school districts are paying less attention to the arts, social studies, and physical education (Wills 2007). Detractors of NCLB argue that students lose the benefits of a broad education when they are not allowed to develop skills in subjects other than mathematics, reading, and the language arts (Cawelti 2006).

In spite of the changes that school districts have implemented in response to NCLB, the overall status of disadvantaged students has not improved in the United States. In Thermal, California, for example, "19 of the 21 schools of the Coachella Valley Unified School District have not met the federal law's performance benchmarks for four years. In the U.S., 411 school districts in 27 states face intervention" (Williams 2008, 3A). …