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Rethinking NO Child Left Behind Act: States are the Problem

Fifty-nine years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, forty-nine years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, and a decade after the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), racial achievement gaps between African American and Latino males and white, non-Latino males are alarming. According to the 2012 Schott Foundation report The Urgency of Now, “only 53% of Black males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school in four years, while 78% of white, non-Latino males graduate in four years.”   In the same report, the Schott Foundation found that, since the signing of NCLB, Black male graduation rates went from 42% in 2001-2 to 52% in 2009-10, Latino rates increased from approximately 46% to 58%, and white, non-Latino graduation rate went from 71% to 78%. This made me wonder, does No Child Left Behind work?

There are mixed opinions of NCLB among parents, educators, politicians, and within communities across America. On the one hand, proponents of the NCLB assert that states have made progress in reducing the racial achievement gaps between African Americans and Latinos and white, non-Latinos. They argue that NCLB requires schools and districts to focus their attention on the academic achievement of traditionally under-served groups of children, and hold States and school districts accountable for taking federal money and failing to educate all students.  On the other hand, opponents of the NCLB assert that NCLB allows States to under fund Title I programs, thus, destroying public education.  They contend that most states and districts that lead with a status-quo standards-based reform agenda (standardized testing) have yet to implement state- or district-wide policies that allow educators to provide adequate learning environments for African Americans and Latinos (support-based reform) that are equal to the support of white, non-Latinos. Others argue that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill enacted by President Obama’s administration fails to address many of the NCLB’s fundamental flaws and in some cases will make them worse. Although I agree that there has been some increase in graduation rates across the board, the reality is that nearly half of the 1.2 million students who fail to graduate are African American and Latino, and that there are approximately 20 cities contributing to almost 80% of that dropout rate.  So, this raises the question are the cities/states responsible or NCLB and ESEA? In my opinion, it’s the states/cities that are at fault.

The NCLB and ESEA program known as ‘Title I’ directly affects most African American and Latino students. Title I provides federal funds to States serving low-income students to help them provide the best education for their students. It is my view that NCLB and ESEA works for cities and school districts that use NCLB and ESEA Title I funding, combined with State and local funds, to implement support-based reform for African American and Latino children in Title I schools. For example, support based- reform includes providing students with advising, counseling, and academic support intervention programs, etc. that ensure students are successful.  The NCLB and ESEA doesn’t work when states and school districts have large gaps in achievement rates between Title I schools and non-Title I schools, and deny educators Title I funding on the local and/or state level for support based reform. For instance, in cities and school districts where there aren’t wide gaps of per-pupil expenditures among non-Title I schools and Title I schools, the state and local funds contribution to NCLB and ESEA are relatively modest.  Thus, the funding these States received from the federal government , in support of NCLB and ESEA,  was enough to cover the added expense necessary to adhere to the new law-No Child Left Behind.

The combination of NCLB and ESEA Title I funds and state and local funds allows these states and school districts to implement innovative support based reforms that provide educators with the resources and funding they need to reduce the gaps between white, non-Latino education/support and African American and Latino education/support.  As a result, these states and school districts have made progress in closing the gaps between African American, Latino, and white students. On the other hand, in cities where there are high poverty rates, educators are denied state and local funding, and the gaps between non- Title I funding and Title I funding are wide, NCLB and ESEA does not work.  For instance, Houston, Texas is just one city that is contributing to that 80% dropout rate in the United States.  The State of Texas has been awarded nearly 2.1 billion dollars to implement the No Child Left Behind and approximately $1.3 billion in Title I funding. Yet, according to the Department of Education, there is a 24% spending difference between Title I schools and non-Title I schools in Houston, Texas, and a 253% poverty rate difference between Title I and non-Title I schools in Houston.   As a result , in 2009/10 in Houston, Texas, the African American graduation rate was roughly 40% compared to an estimated 73% graduation rate for white, non-Latino males. Despite these alarming numbers, Governor Rick Perry is unwilling to use state and local funds to pay for the necessary expenses to close the gaps between affluent school s and disadvantaged schools.  The Texas legislature cut and restructured the part of the funding that is constitutionally required, and have denied educators equitable and adequate funding for public education. Hence, educators don’t have the funding and resources to implement a support-based reform agenda to meet the needs of all Texas students as well as the growing student population in Title I schools. According to the Department of Education, “If Title I schools do not receive levels of state and local funding that are comparable to those in other schools (non-Title I schools) in the same district, then the federal investment in Title I may not in fact ensure that such schools have the level of resources needed to help address the greater challenges they face.”

Due to the mandates within NCLB and ESEA, cities like Houston are now under pressure to justify why they took Title I funding from the federal government and have failed, for a decade, to ensure that no child was left behind.  Instead of admitting their neglect, these states and school districts took the easy way out by simply labeling African American and Latino students that are incapable of meeting the status-quo standardized testing reform agenda, as “bad”, “slow”, “unwilling to learn”, “ADHD/ADD”, and/or criminal. Taking a deeper look at the situation, it is evident States and school districts that refuse to provide services to Title I schools from state and local funds that are at least comparable to services in non-Title I schools  are prohibiting African American and Latinos from receiving the same education as white, non-Latinos. According to a Department of Education policy brief, if states would raise  “low-spending to Title I and higher poverty schools up to the average funding levels in more advantaged schools it would help ensure that Title I funds are supplementing a truly comparable base of state and local resources in our nation’s schools and fulfilling the purpose of federal education funding.”

The time has come for us to critically examine how certain States undermine federal efforts, and contribute to the high dropout rates among African Americans and Latinos. If we do, I think we will learn that it is just a few States that are abusing the system, and undermining federal funding effort s of public education for all students. The time has come for us to stop believing the African American and Latino children are incapable of learning, and that some children will always be left behind.  The truth is that only some states are the problem, and that they are grossly misusing federal funds to undermine NCLB and ESEA efforts.  We must hold these states accountable for their negligence, because we can live in a society, where no Child is left behind.

Aundrea Matthews
Ph.D. Candidate, Religious Studies
Area of Study: Religion & Theology of the African Diaspora, Race and Identity/Culture

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