Reform the Reform
The No Child Left Behind Act, promoted by President Bush as a historic piece of education reform legislation, is in urgent need of reform itself.
That is the main thrust of a scathing bipartisan report issued this week by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Much more than tinkering will be required. "Changes need to be made in the law's foundation," said John Hurson, the organization's president.
The report shows that the legislation, which is intended to browbeat schools into improving academic performance, may be having just the opposite effect. It is tempting states to lower academic standards just to meet the requirements of the law. It is threatening to push the most talented teachers from struggling schools. It is undermining promising reforms already instituted by individual states such as California.
The report also suggests that the actual costs of the law outweigh its benefits. Although federal expenditures on education have risen in response to the legislation, the increase represents only a 2 percent rise in total education spending across the United States.
This covers just the costs of administering the law -- and none of the remedial services and additional learning opportunities districts need to implement to accomplish the "one size fits all" goals of the law.
The law applies to all states that receive Title I funds from Washington to help poor, academically low-performing children. But when Utah considered not participating, the U.S. Department of Education told the state it would forfeit not only Title I funds, but funds for after-school, literacy and drug- free school programs as well.
"Punishing states financially for not participating in NCLB violates the spirit of a state-federal partnership to improve education," the report concluded.
The report confirms what many educators have been arguing: The harm the legislation is inflicting on our schools is threatening to erase the good it might accomplish. The Bush administration and its allies in Congress must move immediately to fundamentally reform this overbearing federal law.
San Francisco Chronicle
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES