With a new administration taking office next year, the future of education is uncertain, as is President George Bush’s controversial education initiative — No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — and its rigorous accountability provisions. As a result, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) recently called upon Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama to support this type of school accountability, as education unfortunately has not been a major player in this year’s election.
“(LCCR), as well as most of the major civil rights organizations, believe that the accountability provisions of NCLB are civil rights provisions,” said Raul Gonzalez, senior legislative director for the National Council of La Raza and chair of the Education Task Force of LCCR.
“We can no longer just ignore the fact that if you are black or Hispanic, you are receiving a very different educational experience than kids who are white. We understand that some of the provisions of the law are challenging to implement. But just like the battle over integration and the battle for the Voting Rights Act, [this is] not easy, but [it’s] necessary.”
According to Gonzalez, under NCLB, if a school is consistently not performing well, it must undergo some radical changes such as re-evaluating the teacher core, principals or curriculum.
“One of the critical things that [NCLB] has done is it’s changed the conversation on the education of minority kids,” he explained. “The Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) poll that comes out every year shows that most Americans understand that there is a big achievement gap between minority children and white children, but they’re OK with it. But now that there is this accountability system in place, the question isn’t, ‘Do we have to educate minority kids?’ It’s more, ‘What we can do to close the achievement gap?’ That’s a major leap forward.”
Before NCLB, Gonzalez witnessed firsthand how little had changed in the public school system as both a student and a teacher.
“I attended Title 1 schools in New York, and I taught in Title 1 schools,” he said. “These [were] minority schools that were very segregated, [had] the least-experienced teachers and few kids [graduated]. From the time I started attending school until now, I’ve seen very little change. [But] over the last six years since NCLB, the conversation is different, and there is this public will to educate minority kids that hasn’t been there for 40 years.”
You might wonder what this has to do with your organization. If schools are not held accountable for the education of every student, it inevitably affects your talent pool.
“As a manager, it’s funny that I have to in some cases teach people how to write, and these are people who graduated from college,” Gonzalez said. “If NCLB is implemented well, then you’re going to get kids graduating from high school, going on to college and going to the workforce with more skills — which means that you have less professional development that’s necessary.
“If I were a CEO, I would want to make sure that NCLB maintains the highest standards [and] has all the resources it needs to be effective because that’s going to save me a lot of money down the road that I won’t have to spend to help my employees pick up the most basic skills.”
If the U.S. education system doesn’t provide the workforce that organizations need, they’ll turn to other resources.
“If you’re not going to have a workforce in the United States that’s prepared to do a good job, if you were a businessman what would you do? You would go to a country that has an educated workforce and have them work for you,” Gonzalez said. “NCLB [is] raising standards; it’s holding people accountable. [And] if it’s done right, it’s going to prepare every kid to go to college and be successful and then join the workforce and be productive.”