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Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. Headshot

President Obama, NCLB and the School Reform Blame Game

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On Friday, September 23, President Barack Obama announced that his administration's amendments to the No Child Left Behind Act would curtail the need for educators to "teach to the test." He also opined that although NCLB was well intentioned, it has not lived up to its hype. "Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far," The President said in his remarks. "I've urged Congress for a while now, let's get a bipartisan effort, let's fix this. Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will." In the eyes of many, NCLB has actually contributed to our educational system becoming even worse. With skyrocketing costs, budget crises, inconsistent curricula, poor standardized test scores, and poor morale among teachers, administrators, and students, the need for sustainable and pervasive educational change is greater now than ever before.

The number of questions related to the quality of the U.S. educational system from multiple sectors of society is at an all-time high. Many American parents have seen reports that American schools rank well below schools in countries such as China and Japan, or have heard President Obama declare a "dropout crisis" in the USA. An abundance of news reports and discouraging case studies has created panic among education stakeholders, who want to know why the American K-12 school system is failing. However, many insist on playing the "blame game," which in most cases is counterproductive.

Many Americans believe that only a small percentage of leaders understand the complexities of the school system, and that individuals who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of our teachers and students. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where too many educators lack the credentials and skills necessary to perform their duties adequately. High student-to-teacher ratios are found in most urban schools, and these schools often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges they face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken urban areas, it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal.

If American educators and school personnel do not make a concerted effort to develop effective measures to hold schools accountable for the education of all of our children, then the education crisis will continue. There is an exception to every rule, as some urban school systems are providing their students with a quality education. Unfortunately, however, only a small number of school systems meet the state and federal government student performance requirements. For underperforming urban school systems, the problem usually lies with the inability to sustain existing reform efforts and initiatives.

Mayors and school superintendents in these areas often concoct grandiose reform plans that are merely political devices meant to beguile voters into believing they genuinely care about educational reform. The idea that politicians create school reform to gain popularity and votes is sad and sobering. It is discouraging to realize that our children's futures might be used as a political device to win elections.

Politicians are not the only people at fault for the shoddy education American children are receiving, but no one is willing to share the blame for subpar educational environments. If administrators were asked who was at fault, they might point to a lack of parental involvement and too few quality teachers. If teachers were asked who was at fault they might also cite a lack of parental involvement and ineffective administration. If parents were asked who was at fault they might blame teachers and school administrators.

Society in general needs to understand that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors that contribute to the current state of our educational system. The country must unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America's future via educational excellence without playing the "blame game."