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NCLB Outrages

Forum to look at No Child Left Behind Act

Kati Haycock's charm comes through in her quotes about schools and NCLB.

Mention the federal No Child Left Behind Act to an educator and you're apt to get an earful about unfunded mandates and impossible expectations.

But the average person is largely unaware that the controversial law signed by President Bush in 2002 has the potential to fundamentally change what public school is all about, said Mary Metz, chairwoman of the department of educational policy studies at UW-Madison.

The department is presenting a free conference titled "The No Child Left Behind Act and the Federal Role in Education: Accountability and Equity in America's Public Schools," today through Friday to raise awareness about the act and its consequences.

"This law is dramatically increasing federal power over the day-to-day practices of every public school in the country," Metz said, adding, "The enforcement is so pervasive and so Draconian."

But, Metz admits, the law intended to raise the achievement of low-income and minority students is not without merit, and conference organizers have made a point to feature a proponent of the law and watchdog on its implementation.

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit instrumental in the act's creation, will launch the conference with a talk at 7 tonight on the need for a strong federal role in education.

State Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster will speak on closing the achievement gap at 7 p.m. Thursday. Panel discussions will be presented at 9:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

"I wish it were having a slightly more radical impact," Haycock said of No Child Left Behind. "We are not getting results for a lot of our kids and dooming them to lives on the margins."

During the 1970s and '80s, the achievement gap between black and white students was cut in half, she said, adding, "that ground to a halt" in the 1980s and '90s when "the gaps actually started to widen again."

Today, only about 30 to 40 percent of students overall fall below levels deemed proficient, but those numbers jump to between 60 and 70 percent for blacks and between 50 and 60 percent for Hispanics, Haycock said.

"Basically what happened was the states sort of fell down on the job," she said.

Under No Child Left Behind, states set their own standards but must bring all students to a level of proficiency by the 2013-14 school year. Schools that fail to make adequate progress will be subject to corrective measures.

"People say, 'That's not fair.' Not fair to whom?" Haycock asked. "What's the fairest thing we can do for these kids?"

While "there are some quirks" in the No Child Left Behind Act, Haycock said, "It's been implemented reasonably well by the feds."

"I'd be the first to say the law's not perfect," Haycock. "There's a lot of misunderstanding about what the law requires as opposed to the rhetoric about the law."

Among them is a belief it was concocted by the president and Republicans bent on destroying public education, said Haycock, a Democrat who credits Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Gary Miller - "hardly right-wing demons" - with the initiative.

She credits Bush with increasing federal funding between 30 percent and 40 percent, with some schools receiving as much as 50 percent more.

Concerns about consequences for schools that fall short on student proficiency will be addressed when the law is renewed in 2006-07, she said.

"A lot of people are getting hysterical," Haycock said. "Everything we know about the political process says, 'Relax.'"

— Sandy Cullen
Wisconsin State Journal


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