"Issues and Action in Education"
Foot-dragging on No Child Left Behind
by Julie Quist
An e-letter produced by EdWatch, a nonprofit organization.
"I would have No Child Left Behind repealed."
Freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who campaigned on eliminating it.
Just weeks ago, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Congressman George Miller (D-CA), was said to be unveiling his proposal for re-authorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by the end of July, but NCLB legislation hasn't been introduced in Congress in either the House or the Senate. After this week, Congress will be in recess until after Labor Day. NCLB expires September 30th.
Why the foot-dragging on NCLB? Miller was a key architect of the 2001 NCLB Act, and, until recently, he opposed any significant changes in the law. This week, however, he told the National Press Club, "I can tell you that there are no votes in the U.S. House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it.” His "goal" is to pass legislation in September.
The changes he's floating, however, leave federal bureaucrats in control, actually adding more measures for schools to meet. He would, for example, expand federal oversight over teacher evaluations. While teacher "performance pay" is worthy of debate, why would taxpayers trust Washington to dictate a teacher salary system? And if teacher performance criteria are the same annual NCLB low-level tests that are now driving curriculum to the bottom, how would that raise the quality of teaching?
Miller would also include more criteria to judge schools as competent -- graduation rates, for example. In other words, under the Miller plan, a huge, new incentive would be created to graduate students in order to avoid school closures. That idea expands NCLB into high schools and undermines any remaining reliability of graduation standards, which are already painfully low.
The MIller plan would also throw more money at the problem, though he wouldn't say how much. In response to a reporter's question, Miller also implied that English Language Learners might be assessed with tests in other languages.
Other possible accountability criteria for schools that Miller mentioned were "portfolios." Portfolios are student essays, drawings and reports, a completely subjective measure of achievement. Even Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a strong supporter of NCLB, is appalled at that idea. "We're over-testing (students), so let's have more tests?" she commented to Debra Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-MN is one Democrat freshman who wants to expand NCLB to include student "portfolios," according to a May 16, 2007 issue of EdWeek. Walz criticized NCLB while campaigning, says EdWeek, "as an unfunded federal mandate that forces schools to narrow their instruction so that students can pass standardized tests." But he and other freshman Democrats are "now seeking common ground with key Democratic architects of the NCLB law," namely Committee Chair George Miller.
Walz' flip-flop has drawn fire from within his district where opposition to NCLB runs high. "In a day and time when politicians have such a poor reputation for saying one thing and doing another, it appears even my own Congressman has misled voters here," said Renee Doyle, President of EdWatch. "He's simply caved, and that's a serious matter in Minnesota." Minnesota led the country in its opposition to NCLB in 2001, with only one of Minnesota's congressional delegation voting yes on authorization.
Minnesota freshman Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN also campaigned against NCLB, but he told EdWeek that while repeal was a possibility "if we mount a strong enough effort,” it "probably is not" on the agenda. It doesn't sound like he'll be heading up a repeal effort.
Cong. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, is another who campaigned last Fall that she would scrap NCLB, which she described then as right-wing Republicans trying to “undermine our confidence in our public schools.” She said that the federal government had no business in school accountability. According to EdWeek, however, Shea-Porter is now "willing to give a second look to the federal education law."
Others, however, are urging the Bush administration to work with Congress to return education authority to the states. A June 22, 2007 letter to U.S. Education Secretary Spellings was signed by six Democrat Senators: Feingold, Nelson, McCaskill, Leahy, Stabenow, and Cantwell. The letter states that “NCLB has hamstrung state and local decision-making.” The Senators acknowledge a "groundswell of opposition to the NCLB – from parents, educators, and administrators alike." Decision-making power, they wrote, should be with those "closest to our schools and best equipped to make these decisions." They sent a similar letter to the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee in February.
Feingold and others went on to say, "Ms. Spellings was right that states and localities are the ones that design the curriculum and pay most of the education bills.... She was also correct that states and local school districts have historically had the primary leadership role in public education. That's why it's so hard to understand why she keeps promoting the No Child Left Behind law's top-down approach to education." The Senators should have reminded Spellings that state control of education is not simply "historical." It is a mandate in the U.S. Constitution, enshrined in the 10th amendment.
More than 60 House Republicans, meanwhile, are in open revolt against the Bush administration, supporting a bill (A-PLUS Act) by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich, that would have states opt out of the law and set their own goals and standards. "Does [U.S. Secretary of Education] Margaret Spellings know more about educating kids in Michigan?" he asked in an interview with the Gannett News Service. He called the law "a straightjacket approach to education with mega-mandates," and he said that Bush knows he is facing a revolt.
Minority GOP Whip Rep. Roy Blunt, R-MO. is a former high school and college teacher who voted for NCLB when it passed Congress in 2001. He also is supporting A-PLUS. "I think you are better off having decisions made about secondary and elementary education closer to where kids are," he told Gannett News.
Freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, campaigned on eliminating NCLB, and is another A-PLUS co-author. "I would have No Child Left Behind repealed," she said. In 2004 Bachmann led the opposition to NCLB in the Minnesota legislature while serving as a state senator. She introduced bi-partisan legislation, which passed the Senate, to remove Minnesota from NCLB.
By a 62% to 34% margin, the American public now believes that "when something is run by government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful," according to a recent Pew Study. Pollster Stanley Greenberg agrees, saying, “…the message [is] that government in general is incompetent.” Washington money has never helped education, in spite of billions of dollars poured into it.
Last May the U.S. House of Representatives approved a motion by Cong.Hoekstra to an education funding bill that stated: "Nothing in this act, or the amendments made by this act, shall be construed to limit the authority of state governments or local school boards to determine the curricula of their students." It passed by a vote of 408 to 4. Now it's time for Congress to actually put that amendment into practice.
For more detailed information about the No Child Left Behind Act, order
America's Schools: The Battleground for Freedom.
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