NCLB II: Who Really Knows What’s Best?

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) forces low-income students to be “test-takers” and learn rote tasks which, some say, are preparing them for a life low-skilled jobs and poverty while students in mid to high-income households are being prepared to be creative thinkers. With the upcoming reauthorization of NCLB and upcoming presidency, there are a lot of opinionated individuals. Have a conversation with a future policy maker, two high school teachers and a potential high school teacher and you can see everybody thinks they know what’s best for our children, but does anybody really?

Some say it’s a law that looks good on paper but its primary purpose is lost in translation or difficult to put into fruition.

Like many times before, many political observers predict that the Republican and Democratic parties will not be able to make a decision on the reauthorization of the law because it has so many intricacies such as making a school day longer to give kids time to meet the standards or giving more money to low-income schools.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama fully supports the law, but says it wasn’t executed as best as possible. If he makes it as our nation’s President, you will see the law, but with more flexibility in the application process for a student who is zoned for a “bad” school to be bused in to a “better” school.

“I do not like the idea of school choice for all who want it simply because people buy houses in areas where the schools are better. It is not fair for them because the schools will be overcrowded. This may sound harsh but you should go where you are zoned. If the schools aren’t good where you live, maybe our parents shouldn’t have had kids if they couldn’t afford them,” says a Long Island High School teacher who wants to remain anonymous.

A policy major at Nassau Community College says, “It’s a problem that we are running away from the problem.” He then continues in the other direction, “It leaves behind the children who need the help the most.”

Obama also would want to move away from traditional testing as well making the way students show what they know more of a holistic assessment, instead of one test score, which is helpful for students with disabilities and English Language Learners, who may show what they know in multiple ways, instead of a standardized test.

Presidential candidate John McCain also supports the law and even voted for the law as a senator. He believes it is a good beginning but still requires some changes such as testing children with disabilities and English language learners.

With so much money spent on education, the latest authorization may also offer more time students to meet the standards, costing $150 million a year, approximately $1,200-$1,400 per pupil a year.

John Giangrasso, a 25 year old, who is working towards becoming a high school teacher, says, “It may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t. It should be $500 million.”

“What John might not realize is the paycheck he will be receiving and the lack of it if and when yet more tax money is taken out of his already measly paycheck to sponsor such endeavors,” says fourth year special education teacher, Vicky Young.

So, with NCLB already being highly debatable among the masses, some zero in even more, focusing on the low-income students, and how this law effects them, their communities and the people who teach, or will, teach them.

Primary criticism says that NCLB can reduce effective learning because it makes teachers “teach to the test” and Vicky Young agrees. “There is no time for a teacher to want to expand on any topic because they are always preparing for a standardized test, or even a standardized practice of a standardized test. You don’t have time to build model roller coasters out of pipe insulation to teach acceleration and force or create a monster coordinate grid in the playground with chalk that they could walk on. That would be seen as “fun” and when my kids (students) were seen by the principal doing these things, who would get in trouble? Me. These are the kinds of things that get kids going, especially the kids where I work, in East New York, who could care less about test prep!”

She does believe that we are preparing low-income students how to have low-skilled jobs. But she has to stop herself, because she knows her special education students are already at a disadvantage, aside from being poor. “I think for some, we just have to focus on showing them how to attain and maintain a better quality of life for themselves, and it’s definitely not perfecting quadratic equations.”

But shouldn’t children in every school in this nation be taught the same material so they have the same opportunities? Right now, each state has different state standards. Our policy student feels the states should have autonomy and have different standards. “It’s a sticky situation that should be up to the state of New York how to spend it.”

Will education ever have simple answers? Probably not. We all come from different places and have had different experiences that shape us to disagree with even ourselves when it comes to education policy. Maybe we should leave it to the kids.

Product Of Your Environment: Different Perspectives From Different People

John Giangrasso, Future High School Teacher

Nassau Community College Policy Student

Vicky Young, Special Education Teacher (4 years), low-income school

Long Island High School teacher (10 years)






Schooled at

Valley Stream Public Schools, Community College

Lawrence Public Schools, attended college in London

Queens Public and Catholic Schools, was a NYC Teaching Fellow

Flushing Public Schools, has two masters including school administration

Continuing arts and music in schools


“When you graduate, arts and music will do nothing. I know because I was caught up on it and you’ll never be able to support yourself.”


“It lets people’s minds work differently. Finland’s schools focus on play and discovering the world on their own and their test scores are the highest in the world.”


“Studies have shown that kids who have art and music in their classrooms, do better in all of their classes because it gives them self-esteem.”


“I don’t like limiting kid’s experiences. On the other hand, I can understand because we need to teach them to read, write, count and some higher order thinking. It’s great if a kid can sing, paint, or play an instrument, but, many consider that a hobby.”

Should there be merit pay for teachers of students who score high?


“That’s how they do it in the business world.”


“Teachers won’t get better without motivation.” He once had a (high school) teacher say, “I would love to stay and help you, but I would be breaking my contract.”


“It doesn’t take into account students with disabilities, and I would never get that raise!”


“This will cause teachers to cheat so they can get their bonus. Do you really blame them? What if you teach lower levels of kids? How about special ed? They will never see merit money.”

Did your schools prepare you?


“I don’t think my high school prepared me for shit. There was no emphasis on work and the future. I did awful at Nassau Community College at first.”



“For me, I had a mixture of gifted classes, private and public schools, progressive and traditional teachers. I think the diversity helped me a lot.”


“I didn’t do crap in school but I always listened and always did well on tests. I wasn’t lazy, I just didn’t see the point in some assignments. I did fine.”

Catherine Livigni

Gay Marriage… What are the Alternatives?

What is it like to grow up gay in a predominantly straight and homophobic world? Gay children struggle to envision a future that includes marriage, family, and children. Gay children who grow up in America face a serious dilemma; if they assert their sexual identity for all to see, they run the risk of public scorn, alienation from family, and civil rights discrimination. On the other hand, if they hide their sexual identity and pretend to be straight, they enjoy all the benefits that society has to offer straight people but are forced to live with a private pain that often leads to alcohol abuse, drug addiction, severe depression and in some cases suicide. Recently the topic of gay marriage has arisen as a civil rights issue and has generated a heated debate among gay activists, and religious fundamentalists primarily. Marilyn Maxwell, a former Hewlett High School English teacher, and the only openly gay person in school district 14, illustrates the complexity surrounding this issue through the difficulties she has experienced.

Like many gay adults living in a committed relationship in the United States, Dr. Maxwell and her partner are unsure as to how they should proceed regarding the issue of marriage. Dr. Maxwell and her partner have been in a committed relationship for 10 years and would like to celebrate their love for each other publicly in a formal ceremony that is acknowledged by the state of New York.

Unfortunately, many states are passing legislation in favor of gay marriage, and then cancelling that legislation. I asked Dr. Maxwell the “should 2 partners go through a same sex marriage in New York State if the voters of New York make it null in void?” She said, “New York State recently, by executive order of the Governor Pattison agreed to accept same sex couples who are legally married outside of New York State and who then returned to New York State to live.” When Dr. Maxwell and her partner heard about this development, they, like other gay couples in New York, considered traveling to those states where gay marriage is legal and then returning to New York to enjoy the benefits that straight couples have. According to Maxwell there was such an outcry against gay marriage in New York, that there is a threat that Governor Pattison’s executive order will be overturned by a public referendum in the next election.

Dr Maxwell has given a lot of thought to alternatives to gay marriage. She and her partner had a public commitment ceremony where they celebrated with 100 of their friends and family members. The ceremony was led by a minister from the Ethical Humanist Society and was conducted like a marriage. When the minister was writing out the certificate, Dr. Maxwell said that the minister deleted the word marriage and wrote “ceremony”. Dr. Maxwell and her Partner exchanged vows and rings and celebrated with their friends. However, they do not enjoy the same civil rights benefits as do straight couples. They like many gay couples, feel it is unfair that gay people must pay additional money to ensure survivor benefits for their partners. Also, when a husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse does not have to pay inheritance tax on all the goods and property left to him or her. Gay couples, on the other hand are faced with such enormous costs when a partner passes away. In addition, when a wife or husband is sick and hospitalized, the spouse is admitted into his or her room and is allowed to make medical decisions. For gay couples, each partner must pay an attorney to draw up a medical proxy that allows the partner to make such medical decisions. Gay couples at this point in time must suffer these civil rights violations because New York State and the rest of the country cannot decide on the legal status of civil unions for gay couples is unethical. Those who are opposed to gay marriage often argue that marriage is a religious ceremony that recognizes the union between a man and a woman. Dr. Maxwell, like many gay adults in New York, understands that the word marriage may be the obstacle preventing people from accepting gay unions. Her solution is “drop the word marriage and call it a civil union that entitles the couple to all the same rights and privileges given to straight couples.”

– Jared Albaum