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NCLB Outrages

Fix It, Don't Kill It

This is a typical 'liberal' view of someone who wants NCLB to work--and probably really believes it can.

YOU don't have to look hard to see why leading Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy banded together with President Bush in his first term to pass the sweeping education reform act, No Child Left Behind.

One statistic sums up the reason for the bipartisan support: Black and Hispanic 17-year-olds in American schools read at the same level as white 13-year-olds.

No Child Left Behind has taken aim at such shameful and persistent achievement gaps by holding schools accountable for the performance of historically underachieving groups - blacks, Hispanics, the disabled and the poor.

But now the law is facing mounting legal challenges that unfortunately could kill it.

Last week the nation's largest teacher's union, together with eight school districts in three states, sued the federal government over the law. Connecticut has said it will file suit as well. And Utah has also thumbed its nose at Washington with a new statute that challenges the federal education act.

The complaints behind the legal actions vary. But the most common gripe is that the Bush administration hasn't fully funded No Child Left Behind.

There's truth to that, and the president bears some blame for the opposition to the law.

Although federal education funding under the Bush administration has increased, it still falls short of |the highest level promised under |the law.

If the president would make the same commitment to improving America's schools that he has made to his costly and misguided tax |cuts for the wealthy, the law's critics would have a lot less to complain about.

Mr. Bush also bears responsibility for suspicions that his true intent with this law has been to discredit public education so as to build support for taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools.

The president named outspoken voucher proponents to key education posts in his first term. And his administration has overemphasized parts of the law that encourage privatization of public education, such as by forcing failing districts to hire private tutoring companies for students and by allowing states to convert long-struggling schools into charter or for-profit schools.

But some of the harshest critics of the law have exploited these suspicions of the Bush administration to build opposition to No Child Left Behind.

For example, the National Education Association, the union leading the recent lawsuit over inadequate funding, seems less interested in fixing No Child Left Behind than in weakening it beyond recognition.

And where would that leave schoolchildren?

No Child Left Behind for the first time forces schools to go beyond reporting their average standardized test scores by separately tallying the performance of the poor, disabled, blacks and Hispanics.

Some critics charge that the law requires too much testing - all students will soon face exams in every year from third through eighth grades. That's a valid concern if schools are, as these critics maintain, dumbing down curricula to focus on math and reading, the only subjects tested, or |if they are narrowly teaching to |the tests at the expense of overall learning.

But let's face it, traditional methods of educating poor and disabled students have too often failed. Putting more emphasis on standardized testing could actually raise the level of teaching if the tests are rigorous examinations of higher-order thinking skills.

The fact is No Child Left Behind is already achieving results.

Here in New Jersey, the law has reinforced state efforts to improve reading instruction in early grades. It has caused school principals in wealthy suburbs to look hard at why special education students with only moderate disabilities score below their peers in regular classes. It has added to the pressure on poor urban schools to reduce shockingly high dropout rates.

Yes, it is a huge challenge for public schools to revamp curricula and improve teacher training so as to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds reach their potential.

Yes, it puts great demands on public school systems.

But the schools can do it - if the Bush administration provides the funding and leadership necessary for the law to succeed.

— Editorial
The Record


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