Every Child Left Behind

By Chris Hoenig


The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2001, was meant as a way to close the educational-achievement gap that left low-income studentswho are largely Black and Latinostruggling in failing schools.

Thirteen years later, President Barack Obama has introduced Excellent Educators for All, a new initiative aimed at picking up the pieces of an increasingly failing No Child Left Behind. Under the new initiative, which is structured so that it can be implemented without congressional approval, includes three components:

updating of Comprehensive Educator Equity Plans, which were first created in 2006 and are required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). States can now update their plans after consultations with teachers, principals, district administrators, parents and community organizers, ensuring effective teachers for all students using programs developed at the local level;

plans for an Educator Equity Support Network, which will be funded by the U.S. Department of Education for $4.2 million, to provide school districts nationwide with a support network to help develop model plans and share best practices;

enhanced Educator Equity Profiles, which will help states identify where they have a large gap in quality teachers for low-income students, as well as providing full data on local inequities from the states’ Civil Rights Data Collection profiles.

“All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, zip code or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation’s teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better. Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions, but we must work together to enhance and invigorate our focus on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.”

No Child Left Behind Fails

When it was introduced in 2001, No Child Left Behind laid a clear path for administrators to increase the achievement levels of low-income, underperforming school districts. In order to receive federal funding, all public schools in a state had to administer the same standardized test under the same conditions AND achieve higher test scores each year. If a school failed to increase scores for two consecutive years, it had to develop a two-year plan for the subject area and give students the option to transfer to a higher-performing school. After a third straight year of poor test scores, free tutoring was required. The entire staff of a school could be replaced after a fourth year of failure (a new curriculum or extended class hours were also options), while a complete restructuring of the schoolwhich usually entailed turning the school into a charter school or turning it over to a private company or the state Department of Educationwas planned after a fifth year of low scores and implemented after a sixth.

But No Child Left Behind began to fail as the federal government offered states flexibility and waivers from its requirements: 45 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) have applied for ESEA flexibility. Of those, only Iowa, Wyoming and the BIE have not been approved. Only California, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont have not sought flexibility in following No Child Left Behind.

As a result of the waivers, not only do test scores continue to lag behind in schools in low-income neighborhoods, but students attending these schools also don’t have the same access to experienced, high-quality teachers as their more affluent peers.

According to the Department of Education’s own data, teachers in schools where less than one-third of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are far more likely to have a master’s degree or above, while students in schools where 75 percent of them qualify for the lunch program are more likely to have a teacher with just a bachelor’s degree.

The same data reveal the inequity in teacher experience. In affluent schools, more than 40 percent of teachers have at least 15 years of experience, while less than 10 percent have been on the job for fewer than four years. Only one-third of teachers in low-income schools have been working for 15-plus years, while the share of teachers with fewer than four years on the job nearly doubles. Almost half of the teachers in low-income schools have been in that particular school for less than four years.

A study on race and ethnicity also found that teachers lack subject-level certifications far more in majority-Black and majority-Latino schools than in majority-white schools. In schools where at least 50 percent of the students are white: 75 percent of math teachers majored in math, while 65 percent have additional certifications; 84 percent of English teachers majored in English and 70 percent have certifications; and 85 percent of science teachers were science majors, with 73 percent having certifications. The percentage of certifications drops sharply in schools with a 50-plus percent Black population (48 percent of math teachers, 59 percent of English and 57 percent for science) and 50-plus percent Latino populations (44 percent math, 53 percent English, 64 percent science).

No Adults Left Behind

The long-term effects of failing education policies for low-income students are seen in new research from Stanford economics professor Rebecca Diamond. Cities are segregating, Diamond found, with college-educated workers flocking to cities with higher wages and a better quality of life.

“High-skill workers value communities where the amenities are considerable,” said Diamond, who works in the university’s Graduate School of Business. “The non-college-educated value these areas, but they cannot afford the housing.”

The educational wage gap has exploded over the last several decades. College graduates, who earned 37 percent more than high-school graduates in 1980, now earn 73 percent more. And cities that have traditionally attracted college graduates, like Boston and Atlanta, have seen those shares rise even further, while the percentage of college graduates in cities like Albany, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa., has shrunk.

“If the economic value of living in a high-amenity city more than compensates college graduates for the high housing prices, the growth in wage inequality would understate the increase in economic well-being inequality,” Diamond wrote. “High-skill cities not only appear to offer the highest wages, but also a better quality of life.”

The effects on quality of life, Diamond said, can be seen in everything from rent and housing prices (a studio apartment in San Francisco, home to a high percentage of college graduates, sells for a median price of $863,000; the media price of a four-bedroom house in Las Vegas, with a far lower share of college grads, is only $220,000), to crime rates, air quality, further educational opportunities and even entertainment offerings.

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