There have been many criticisms of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although most are valid, I am focusing on only the educational implications of the Act.
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT: WHY IT DOESN’T WORK
MELVIN C. HATHORN
Several years ago, a close friend told me of an incident that happened to his child when he took his son to a psychologist for some testing. The psychologist administered the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). One of the questions was a picture of four animals, a lion, a tiger, a cheetah, and a zebra. The boy was asked to point out the animal that was different from the others. The expected answer was the lion because the other animals had markings on their coats. The child answered that the zebra was different. This was according to the TAT an incorrect answer. When asked why he picked the zebra, the child answered that the zebra was a herbivore and the other animals were carnivores.
Now it may be that that troublesome questions like the above have been eliminated or revised in newer revisions of the TAT, but the point of this little story is to demonstrate that children learn and perceive in many different and unexpected ways. In this article, I intend to explore the educational implications of the No Child Left behind Act.
Many have criticized this Act. The criticism ranges from the problems of unfunded mandates to the inherent inequities of the law in its equal application to developmentally disabled children as well as other special needs children. We will not address these issues and others such as the inordinate loss of teaching time to prep students for the test (teaching to the test). I do not intend to elaborate on these arguments as they have been well expressed in other arenas. Rather I would like to explore the educational implications of the Act.
I have spent over thirty years in the classroom teaching a variety of educational levels ranging form elementary levels through college ages as well as having spent a significant number of years developing and running training curriculum for adult learners in the workplace. I have also been certified in Instructional Theory Into Practice (ITIP) by the National Institute of Corrections Training Academy, August, 1993 and certified in the 4MAT Teaching System by the Excel Corporation, July, 1997.
I have published many article in professional journals including: “Critical Thinking” in Juvenile Justice Training Notes in the Winter, 1995 edition; "Critical Thinking in The Criminal Justice Community” in The Journal of Correctional Training in the Spring, 1992 edition; and, "Critical Thinking at Long Lane School” in Common Ground, the November, 1992 edition.
I have made a variety of presentations around the country including: Creative Training Techniques for Whole Brain Learning at The 2nd Joint Conference on Juvenile Detention & Correctional Services, Cleveland, OH in October, 1996; Critical Thinking and Decision- Making at the American Correctional Association 126th Congress in Nashville, TN in August, 1996; Critical Thinking at the Mid-Atlantic States Correctional Confer-ence, Ocean City, MD in June, 1992; Critical Thinking in the Criminal Justice Community at the Seventh Internation-al Criminal Justice Trainers Conference, Seattle, WA in October, 1991; Experiential Values Development in the Classroom for the Special Education Resource Center in Hartford, CT during June and August, 1986; and, Short Term Objectives and Long Term Goals for the Tolland Region, Department of Mental Retardation, Tolland, CT in October, 1982.
I have been the recipient of the Neal Willemse Achievement award for outstanding contributions to the field of Juvenile Justice Training in October, 1996, and received a Certificate of Appreciation from the National Institute of Corrections Training Academy for three years service as a Regional Field Coordinator in October, 1994.
In light of the above, I feel as if I have some credibility in this area.
In order to fully understand the educational implications of the No Child Left Behind Act, I would like to discuss a little learning theory.
My approach to communication and learning is based on research by David Kolb, David Merrill, Bernice McCarthy and many others. I will not take the time here to document this research since it is readily available elsewhere.
This model, based on work by David Kolb and Bernice McCarthy, begins with the belief that how we communicate, learn, and become motivated is based on how we both perceive and process information.
Research has demonstrated that we all see (perceive) new information on a scale between concrete experience and abstract ideas. Some see (feel) new ideas and learning through concrete and personal experiences, sensations, emotions, and physical activities. One touches a hot stove; one learns not to touch a hot stove in the future. This is concrete learning, learning through actual physical experiences. This kind of learner needs to physically touch, feel, and try new experiences in order to learn.
The abstract learner can learn through thinking through his/her experiences. This learner uses abstract logic, reasoning, and theories. Often they can read about or see an experience and learn from it. They can read about a hot stove and learn not to touch it. They can be told about the hot stove and learn not to touch it.
Imagine a vertical line ranging from the concrete on the top to the abstract on the bottom. Everyone falls on this scale that ranges from an extreme concrete learner to an extreme abstract learner. Somewhere on this vertical continuum, you and I fall between concrete learning and abstract learning. I lean toward the concrete learner. I need to experience something before I can learn about it.
We process ideas (how we work with them) on a scale between watching and doing. Some of us, the Doer, like Nike “just do it!” These people process new ideas by jumping in and trying them, and building, testing, and tinkering with them.
Others of us, the watcher, watch others do it before we try it. We observe others trying out new learnings. We often structure, order, and reflect on new ideas before we actually try them out and learn from them.
Imagine a horizontal continuum that ranges from the Doer on the extreme left to the Watcher on the extreme right. We all fall on this horizontal scale somewhere between these two extremes. If someone tells a doer to touch the stove, the doer may test it out physically before learning from it. The watcher only needs to see another get burnt and process that learning.
If we cross the vertical concrete/abstract scale with the horizontal watcher/doer scale, we get four quadrants. Our own place on each of these scales will determine the quadrant into which we fall. If we fall into quadrant I, the Amiable quadrant, which is in the upper right corner of this model, we have the following characteristics taken from one of my workshops:
Quadrant I: The supporting (amiable) style: (concrete and watching learners)
Supporters value interpersonal relations. These people try to minimize conflict and promote the harmony and happiness of the group and each other. Some see the promoter as accommodating and friendly while others describe it as wishy-washy or “nice.”
In a work situation, supporters may find it difficult to say “no” and frequently overcommit themselves. They can be counted on to please others. They are people-centered and non-aggressive. They will rely on others to give directions about how to complete the task.
This person leads by personal involvement; is people oriented and inspires loyalty on part of others. I’s seek to lead by creating meaning and purpose. Often they will take their leadership role personally.
Relations with authority:
This quadrant style needs to respect authority in order to develop loyalty. While they may comply with authority in the absence of respect for survival reasons, they will not give of their hearts and maximum efforts if disrespect for authority is present. In extreme cases of disrespect, this style has been known to sabotage the leader if the leader violates norms of civilized treatment of employees and others. Quadrant I styles need to feel a sense of personal commitment from the authority in order to “buy into the program.
If we fall into quadrant II, the Analyzing quadrant, which is in the lower right corner of this square, we have the following characteristics:
Quadrant II: The analyzing (analytic) style (abstract and watching learners)
Analyzers are problem solvers. They like to get all the data before making a decision. Some say they are thorough, but others say they are slow. These people are quiet and like working alone.
In a work situation, analyzers posses valuable conceptional skills. They ask the difficult, important questions that need to be asked. Interpersonally, they seem cool and aloof. Analyzers may miss deadlines, but they will have reasons to support their delay.
A quadrant II leader depends on structure, hierarchy and order to run an organization. It is important to follow procedures and policies. This leader will often look for facts and expert opinion before making decisions. They are very focused and analytical.
Relations with authority:
Authority is valued because it keeps order and structure. This leader depends on rules, policies and procedures and will only rarely allow exceptions to standardized procedures.
If we fall into quadrant III, the Controlling quadrant, which is in the lower left corner of this quadrant, we have the following characteristics:
Quadrant III: The controlling (driver) style (abstract and doer learners)
Controllers want results! They love to run things and love to have the job done in their own way. “I’ll do it myself!” is their motto. These people manage time to the minute and are businesslike and efficient, while others see them as threatening and unfeeling.
In a work situation, controllers will make sure the work gets done. They get impatient with long discussions about “the best way” or “the way to please everybody. Controllers are confident in their ability take risks and push forward.
This leader wants results, not excuses! They want to see an immediate practical outcome of a work project and will often do it themselves rather than delegate if they think no one else can do it right and quickly. They want problems solved NOW!
Relations with authority:
The fewer rules, the better. Enforce the ones you have if they serve a practical purpose. Quadrant III’s will often bend the rules to get the job done. “Just Do It!” is their motto.
If we fall into quadrant IV, the Promoting quadrant, which is in the upper left corner of this quadrant, we have the following characteristics:
Quadrant Iv: the promoting (expressive) style: (concrete and Doer learners)
Promoters get involved with people in active, rapidly changing situations. These people are socially outgoing and friendly, imaginative and vigorous. Because people react to behaviors as a result of their own value biases, the promotional style is dynamic and energetic while others perceive the same behavior as egotistical.
In a work situation, promoters tend to get things started, but often settle for less than the best in order to move on to something else. When faced with a task, these promoters can generate creative ideas for work but are less likely to follow through to complete the task. If an organization can accommodate this style, it will benefit from enthusiasm, but must tolerate a lack of concern for details. Promoters are frequently highly competitive and may need to learn to work with others collaboratively.
IVs tend to lead by visions, often setting them and adding to the task and mission of organization. Innovative and explores and learns by trial & error and self-discovery.
Relations with authority:
Often acts as if authority isn’t present or ignores it in search of the larger picture. Often sees authority as too restrictive and confining, and sometimes resentful of it if the authority inhibits creativity and freedom.
Although research has confirmed the validity of this approach toward learning, most educational practices still depend on Quadrant II techniques for teaching. Lectures, readings, linear and abstract concepts are the norm for many school classrooms around the country. Only thirty percent of American students are Quadrant II learners. Yet the majority of our teaching methods are effective for only these students. Our educational system misses the other seventy percent of American students.
There are signs that this is beginning to change. Many school systems around the Country such as San Antonio, TX or Ridgefield, NJ are successfully redesigning their educational practices to reflect these new learnings. For those interested further information on the research on which these findings are based or on how successful these programs are, visit the web site: www.aboutlearning.com.
If that weren’t enough, Howard Gardner has developed the theory of multiple intelligences. The following can be found at: www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.htm. I have quoted extensively from Dr. Armstrong below:
“These intelligences are: “Linguistic intelligence ("word smart"); Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart"); Spatial intelligence ("picture smart"); Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart"); Musical intelligence ("music smart"); Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart"); Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart"); and, Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart").
“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled "learning disabled," "ADD (attention deficit disorder," or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.
“The theory of multiple intelligences proposes a major transformation in the way our schools are run. It suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more (see Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom). The good news is that the theory of multiple intelligences has grabbed the attention of many educators around the country, and hundreds of schools are currently using its philosophy to redesign the way it educates children. The bad new is that there are thousands of schools still out there that teach in the same old dull way, through dry lectures, and boring worksheets and textbooks. The challenge is to get this information out to many more teachers, school administrators, and others who work with children, so that each child has the opportunity to learn in ways harmonious with their unique minds (see In Their Own Way).
“The theory of multiple intelligences also has strong implications for adult learning and development. Many adults find themselves in jobs that do not make optimal use of their most highly developed intelligences (for example, the highly bodily-kinesthetic individual who is stuck in a linguistic or logical desk-job when he or she would be much happier in a job where they could move around, such as a recreational leader, a forest ranger, or physical therapist). The theory of multiple intelligences gives adults a whole new way to look at their lives, examining potentials that they left behind in their childhood (such as a love for art or drama) but now have the opportunity to develop through courses, hobbies, or other programs of self-development (see 7 Kinds of Smart).
“One of the most remarkable features of the theory of multiple intelligences is how it provide eight different potential pathways to learning. If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a graduate school instructor, or an adult learner seeking better ways of pursuing self-study on any subject of interest, the same basic guidelines apply…
“For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there's very little supply, your stomach's demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing?").
“You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools. The theory of multiple intelligences is so intriguing because it expands our horizon of available teaching/learning tools beyond the conventional linguistic and logical methods used in most schools (e.g. lecture, textbooks, writing assignments, formulas, etc.). To get started, put the topic of whatever you’re interested in teaching or learning about in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or "spokes" radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence. Then start brainstorming ideas for teaching or learning that topic and write down ideas next to each intelligence (this is a spatial-linguistic approach of brainstorming; you might want to do this in other ways as well, using a tape-recorder, having a group brainstorming session, etc.). Have fun!”
What does all this theory have to do with the No Child Left Behind Act? First a rhetorical question. Can a standardized test predict athletic success? Can a standardized test predict musical success? Can a standardized test predict interpersonal success? The dependence on testing to determine the success of a school system is a red-herring that does not address the real issues. The test can only measure linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, and possibly spatial intelligence.
It cannot measure–except perhaps in an intellectual, quadrant II type way–bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and naturalist intelligence.
I suggest therefore that the No Child Left Behind Act fosters two undesirable things: a dependence on conformity, i.e. there is only one correct answer to a questions and a codependent relationship between the school system which is dependent on the successful outcome of test scores and the capriciousness of an arbitrary federal agency.
So if the No Child Left Behind Act is neither a valid or reliable method of assessing students or a school system, how do we assess and measure student progress? I would like to suggest a radical alternative. Either eliminate testing altogether or revise our testing methods.
To explain: how does the “real world” test people? How do employers test employees? Except for possibly new hiring, most employers do not give standardized tests. They assess an employee’s performance on either completed projects or interpersonal relationships with other employees.
How well does the employee demonstrate teamwork? How well does the employee accomplish his or her goals? Does an employee complete projects either in a team on individually in a timely manner?
I suggest that all eight intelligences could be evaluated in a similar manner. This would relieve the test anxiety many students have which automatically reduces their performance, provides a “reality-based” method of assessment, and enhance the long-term retention of learning.
Of course it is impossible to eliminate all testing; a real world would not accept that either, at least at this point in time. I suggest a compromise. In my college teaching courses where I am required to give an exam, I often structure it in this way. Since most of my students are in a learning team or a study group, I give my exams as a “take-home” exam. The students are allowed to use any notes they have taken in the course, consult with texts or other material, or even work on the exam together in study groups. The only requirement is that each student must work on each question. This is based on the honor system. This has several advantages. It eliminates cheating. Students cannot cheat unless they depend on others to answer certain questions with little or no effort on their part. In my years of college teaching, I have never encountered this problem. They are only too happy to follow this rule.
It eliminates the last minute cramming and anxiety that tests produce. We have all crammed for an exam, and fifteen minutes after the exam we have forgotten all that information because it went into short-term memory.
It enhances learning, critical thinking skills, and discourages conformist thinking. By designing some ambiguous questions students are forced to consult with each other about what I meant by that question. The ensuing discussion encourages the development of the ability to see many sides of an issue.
I often grade these types of test in class so the students have a chance to defend their answer of it differs from mine. If the students can defend what seems to be a wrong answer with logic and reason or with supportive evidence I will accept that answer even if it differs from what I thought was the correct answer.
Therefore, I would suggest that curricula be designed using the four quadrant/right-left learning styles, taught with the multiple intelligences of a combination of the two and assessed using real world techniques. If we have any hope of preparing our students for the 21st century, we must abandon outmoded methods of teaching, testing and curriculum development. One thing is for certain. The No Child Left Behind Act inhibits rather than enhances learning.