No Child Left Behind Legislation and ImpactOn Jan. 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). This new law represents his education reform plan and contains the most sweeping changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it was enacted in 1965. It changes the federal government's role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education by asking America's schools to describe their success in terms of what each student accomplishes. The act contains the President's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work.
An "accountable" education system involves several critical steps:
Issues That Must Be Addressed:
With its narrow focus upon math and reading test scores, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is seen by some as a dangerous experiment that threatens to disrupt and dilute the education of millions of children.
Hidden within this law and the rules promoted by the Ed Department are dozens of changes that are untested, unproven and laced with political motives that could do great damage to public education.
The early focus on labeling schools as failures when combined with parental choice provisions represents an assault on public education, allowing virtual elementary schools, faith-based tutoring and other untested charter alternatives to creep into public systems with public tax money.
While President Bush claims that education is one of his highest priorities, the President's Fiscal Year 2004 budget proposal fails to adequately fund No Child Left Behind Act reforms, assistance for disadvantaged and disabled students, and after-school programs, and eliminates 46 different programs, including rural education, support for small schools, and dropout prevention.
The No Child Left Behind Act signed into law last year promised significant funding to give schools a fighting chance to meet the high academic standards required by the law. The President's budget proposes a cut in federal spending for education, impeding true education reform.
The President's increases for the Title I program for disadvantaged students come nowhere near the amount necessary to fully fund the program. The Title I program is funded at $6 billion less than President Bush promised under the No Child Left Behind Act.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), at the President's rate of increase, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would never be fully funded. A first grader who was in school when IDEA was first passed in 1975, will be 69 years-old by the time the Bush Administration's rate of increase would even come close to fully funding special education.
As a result, the President's budget further undermines the No Child Left Behind Act by cutting more than 563,000 latch-key children from after-school programs; cutting over 22,000 Limited English Proficient (LEP) children from federal bilingual education programs; and training 15,000 fewer teachers than proposed for last year.
The Challenge Ahead
At its core, the new law challenges states to measure student achievement more often in order to ensure that students are progressing on a path to proficiency. The idea is not to wait several years before taking the students’ academic temperature, but rather to do it in every grade. More frequent testing leads to more frequent feedback to teachers, students and parents. And that feedback should allow schools to focus instruction where it is most needed and address achievement gaps for the benefit of all students. It is also intended to enable policy makers to intervene in situations where the testing reveals inadequate progress being made.
There are, however, a number of challenges to making this work as conceived, and although the law lists some important criteria state assessments will need to meet, Congress has left many of the toughest decisions to the U.S Department of Education and to the states themselves.
As states fill in the gaps in their testing systems, here are some of the things to watch out for: Will the new tests be adequately aligned to state standards? How challenging are those standards--are they worth aligning to? Will the new tests be aligned with existing tests, such that they measure a logical progression of skills from 3rd to 4th grade, from 4th to 5th and so on through 8th grade? Will the tests be sufficiently challenging? Will they measure advanced concepts as well as basic skills? Will the results be comparable across school districts within each state? How rigorous an approach will each state take to defining what it means to be “proficient”? How quickly and effectively will states report scores back to schools and households? Will states be mindful of the testing burden and work with districts to ensure that, as new tests get created, old ones head for retirement?
As education moves to meet the challenge of NCLB, will sufficient funds be provided? Without adequate funding, NCLB will be nothing more than political rhetoric and will fail to address the needs of America’s children.