NCLB and the Small School
By Michael Edison
McGrath, Alaska (2005)

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has had a profound affect on rural schools across the nation. For one, the rural schools were never considered during the legislative process.

In order to better understand what is happening, let's take a brief look at our current US Secretary of Education, Rod Paige:

Rod Paige was former Superintendent of Houston Independent School District. When he took office, they were reporting dropout rates of 30-40%. One of the things that helped propel Paige into the highest education office in the United States was that those dropout rates had been significantly lowered, in some cases, to 0%.

That's right! 0%!

The only problem is that the records were faked! HISD still has a dropout rate of 30-40%!

See article titled, After the Whistle.

Now that we understand how data can be manipulated, let's look at the NCLB:

Much of the new regulation is based on extensive data collection; statistics. There are several major problems with this approach. One is that in a K-12 school with fewer than 20 students, the data may be well off the charts, as there may be only 1 eleventh grader, or no graduating seniors, etc. What this means, is that if the eleventh grader is absent the day of the test, than 100% of the eleventh grade class that day was absent! Although this may be true, the school may also be listed as one that is failing.

Another problem with data collection for statistics which may be completely irrelevant for a small school, is the emphasis itself on collecting the data. Small school educators generally have enough going on such as creating lesson plans (for multi-subjects, multi-grades), managing their school or site (including maintainence and secretarial), extra-curricular activities, etc... not to mention the responsibility of actually teaching their students. Collecting irrellevant data is time-consuming and takes away time (and money) which could be used more effectively with the students.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is based on the data machine. Currently, it is emphasizing a students proficiency in reading, writing, and math. Proficiency is determined by nationally set norms. The examination is produced in another state. It is written in English, whereas many of our students speak other languages (Yu'pik and Athabaskan). Is this fair and equitable to our rural communities which have much more to offer? Should our student communities be judged by how they compare with other students in New York, Chicago, or L.A.?

Another possibility is if the school consistantly fails to make AYP, that the entire staff would be replaced. This is funny to me, because here in Alaska we have some school sites where the entire staff is replaced every year! We know for a fact that this doesn't work! Some studies indicate, as well as personal experience, that students need continuity and consistancy in order to be successful in school.

If a school succeeds at meeting AYP it is rewarded by increased funding.

If a school fails, on the other hand, it is punished by decreased funding.

It seems to me that the schools that need help the most would be the ones that are failing.

Of course, under current NCLB, the student could have a choice to attend a succeeding school.

Good luck! If you live in Bush Alaska! Is the state going to fly you 500 miles round-trip each day to a succeeding school?

Another concern is NCLB's requirement that a teacher must be highly qualified. Basically, the teacher is expected to have a major, 4 year degree/other intensive requirements, in every subject area he/she is teaching. If he/she does not meet highly qualified, a letter is sent to parents/guardians that the teacher is not qualified. This can prove undermining to the teacher's credibility in the small school.

Is a small school educator expected to be in school for the next 20-30 years at a cost of $100,000+ to meet these requirements? If so, would he/she still be in education?

Let me share with you some common sense on this one:

We had a Medical Doctor teach Biology and Human Physiology here last year. We also had a native Spanish speaker teaching Spanish.

Guess what?

Neither one of them was highly qualified under the NCLB definitions.

It is interesting to note that many private schools, which apparently are doing far better than many public schools, do not always hire teachers with teaching certificates.

In addition to "highly qualified" teachers, the classroom aides must also be "qualified". The NCLB requires all aides to have an Associate Degree. That's great, if you can find a "qualified" individual in your village. The fact is, many villages simply lack the resources or provide enough adequate compensation for this task.

Some villages north of our district have already given some aides the pink slip. Many of these aides had years of experience and spoke indigenous languages. Their students are the ones who ultimately lose.

The NCLB has striped away our ability to teach indigenous language and culture.

Why is it that in Alaska, with more 1-3 teacher schools than any other state, we keep trying to comply with the federal regulations of the NCLB?

There are 11 other states that are either refusing to comply with all or part of NCLB or have prohibited state funding of NCLB mandates. Alaska is not one of them.

"Rural Alaskans, not Washington D.C., should be in charge of rural children's education." -Tony Knowles

According to Lee Wilson, an instructor of Law and Ethics at UAA, the real issue behind NCLB is a formal declaration of the Federal Government to take over the schools. Those who control assesment... control the curriculum... decide pedagogy. This is a brilliant system of control that allows those in power to nationalize the curriculum.

I would urge all of Alaska's representatives, both state and federal, to please consider the bush schools and their unique circumstances.

NCLB harms the small school in Alaska, thereby harming the students and communities as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read and understand this message. I invite you to share these important points with others about the current standing of the NCLB and the small school.


Michael Edison
Principal/Teacher McGrath School
President, Iditarod Educators Association


©2005 Michael Edison Last Modified: February 5, 2005