The evolution of the standards-based movement can be traced back to the successful launching of the Soviet spacecraft, Sputnik, in October 1957. Following the launch of Sputnik, Life magazine published a series of articles titled, “Crisis in Education,” stating that America had not only fallen behind in the race to launch a spacecraft, but also in educating our children.
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush held the first ever National Education Summit aimed at drafting national goals for education. American students leaving the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades were to demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter. President Bush announced these educational goals in his State of the Union address in January 1990. The National Education Goals included:
- preparing preschool children properly so they are ready to learn;
- reducing the dropout rate; improving academic performance;
- more opportunities for teacher education and professional development; increased attention to math and science;
- more workforce development to increase adult literacy and lifelong learning;
- and safer, drug-free schools (NEGP, 1990).
In 2001, President George W. Bush signed The No Child Left Behind Act into law, forcing the nation’s schools system to comply with testing, reporting and accountability requirements. The overarching goal of NCLB is to ensure that every child, regardless of economic disadvantage, racial or ethnic identity, or limited English language skills, become proficient in core subjects taught in public school (NCLB, 2001). Achievement gaps between socio-economic groups are to be identified and closed so children of all race and income levels can read and do math at grade level by the year 2014. The four main principles of No Child Left Behind are:
- holding schools accountable to show students are learning;
- increasing flexibility for schools reaching goals;
- providing more options for parents to choose outside of low-performing schools; and,
- using research on what works best for student learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).
Schools are required to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” and to report that progress by various subgroups which can amount to over 30 groups – ethnic groups, special education students, English Language Learners, etc. If any subgroup fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, all students in the school must be offered the opportunity to transfer to a “successful school.” The school might be doing well by 36 of its 37 subgroups, but according to federal standards the school is “failing.” Groups of educators and parents have been critical of the No Child Left Behind Act arguing against the use of standardized testing to evaluate school progress because some students perform better on standardized tests than others (Rabb, 2004).
Classroom teachers report feeling pressured to “teach to the test” in order to ensure good scores for their schools. The benchmarks for success in No Child Left Behind depend on punishment (Bracey, 2006). Schools that do not do well, often through no fault of their own, are sanctioned for doing poorly. If a school is determined to be “failing” under the No Child Left Behind standards, sanctions are imposed on the school. Corrective action for failing schools can include firing school staff, restructuring school administration, bringing in outside professionals, and a new curriculum.
As an educator, I am not arguing for the elimination of standards in education, however, it is possible to adhere to state and national standards and at the same time engage students in technology-rich lessons and class projects. In fact, it is essential that we not only address curriculum and technology standards in lessons, but that we also utilize innovative practices to engage our students and teach them to become self-directed learners.