An Unfortunate Aspect Of NCLB

The University of California, Santa Cruz, e-mailed my department last week looking to match its student teachers with mentors. New teacher training inspires me more than anything lately so I e-mailed my department head looking for his endorsement. No response.

We examined last year’s assessment data at the next department meeting. Good, not great, and as fully one-sixth of my department, I must shoulder a good amount of blame for my time-sucking, standards-unaligned Feltron Project, which sunk a lot of my Geometry students, I’m positive. The fact is this: if we post the same growth this year as we did the last, we won’t make Adequate Yearly Progress, putting us a year away from Program Improvement.

The department head acknowledged that, yes, mentoring novice teachers is an essential part of this job but, at this critical time, we need better than novices in our classrooms. He didn’t shut the door but gave us all good reason to do it ourselves.

I can’t really square this aspect of NCLB with my conviction that its problems (and we likely disagree on what constitutes “its problems”) result of poor implementation, not of policy itself.

I can see how simply absolving student teachers of any obligation to adequate yearly progress would lead to all sorts of awful scheduling, mendacious administrators assigning the most needy students to the most inexperienced teachers.

I can’t see what NCLB is doing to the onerous process of training new teachers except to make it more onerous.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. The heavy handed mandates that NCLB require cause otherwise rational people to do otherwise irrational things. It’s amazing to sit back and actually listen to what people say in the interest of improving the test scores. Your experience with training teachers is yet another casualty of the policy causing poor practice that further hurts our profession and our kids. Until we address, by either changing or eliminating, that elephant in the room, nothing will change. In fact, I expect it to get worse. Remember, all kids…ALL…will be “proficient” by 2014. Whatever that means.

  2. Yeah, having an extra adult that wants to be there, that has some training, and is there to help is an awful thing.

    I’m sure that the one-on-one time that an extra person could provide for students would hurt test scores.

  3. It smacks an awful lot of selling out long term improvement for short term “success.”

    A little reductio ad absurdum: What would be better? An army of well-trained, engaging, effective teachers who’ll be in the workforce for the next 35 years? Or…making AYP for 2009?

  4. Hello, Dan,

    Your story aligns with what I’ve been hearing from teachers and administrators across the country for the last several years: the fear of sanctions for not meeting AYP benchmarks has stifled creativity and exploration. Anything that cannot be justified as having a direct impact on improving test scores is difficult to justify.

    It’s not like there’s any evil bogeyman responsible for choosing the path that appears safest, but the unintended consequences of NCLB need closer examination.

  5. mendacious administrators assigning the most needy students to the most inexperienced teachers.

    This has been always been the case anyway, AYP or not.

    My first year? They gave all the freshmen a test. Everyone who scored 10% or below they gave to me.

  6. ….and putting student teachers with classroom teachers whose only focus is scripted reading and math programs, test prep and having students pass the state assessments will produce teachers whose main focus is scripted reading and math programs, test prep and having students pass the state assessment. I read about this all the time in regards to young teachers integrating technology in the classroom–if you student teach with a teacher who doesn’t integrate technology, you probably won’t either.

  7. I think the caveat about its implementation being poor rather than policy…is exactly the problem in so much of education.

    My local district is being reformed. We’re going to be ever so rigorous, students will engage in accountable talk until they’re blue in the face, etc. When you talk to administrators, what they’re saying is the right thing and it sounds great.

    However, what I see in the schools is that all of the stuff that made this district still appealing is being shuffled away. The enrichment — which meant exposure to artists and music and poetry, etc. — happens on a day, here or there, if we’re lucky. The writing that my older kids were asked to do in early elementary was light years ahead in terms of thought and creativity than the crap my youngest and his cohort are being taught (they’re actually taught to write sets of sentences like this: I love watermelon. First, it is red and cold. Next, it has green. Last, it tastes good. Clearly, watermelon is my favorite. — that’s the format — “topic sentence” detail sentences listed as first, next, last right in the sentence and then a totally stupid concluding sentence, as modeled above. This is not being used as an outline, or a way to think about writing, this is the formula taught to kindergarten and first grade students.)

    SO my point and I had one is that you CANNOT separate policy from implementation. In fact, your first step should be looking at implementation — what’s being done that works and how can we strengthen that, what’s the part teachers feel is weakest, how do they want support to change that weak part.

    Top down policy implementation is not working.

    Back to change my posting name, before I get in trouble! This is so late, no one’ll likely ever see it anyway.