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NCLB Outrages

NCLB: One View Masquerading as Two

Ohanian Comment: Here USA Today ostensibly poses a point/counterpoint approach to NCLB. But, as always, they give two Standardisto views, pretending that the only issue for the dissenters is funding. And if you want to know more about Public Agenda, take a look at Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? "Non-Partisan" my foot.

And don't you just love Greene & Winters' metaphor: classrooms compared to pigstys teachers are unwilling to clean up.

The view beyond Washington

By Jean Johnson

The nation's principals and superintendents know they have to live with No Child Left Behind, if only they can figure out how. They feel frustrated by a law that on one hand has good intentions and lofty goals, but on the other hand stifles their effectiveness with red tape instead of additional funding.

Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research and citizen engagement organization, surveyed 1,006 K-12 public school superintendents and 925 principals - the people who are putting the law to work. The findings suggest there is still a long way to go:

1 Standards, yes. But NCLB needs to change.

Most school leaders accept NCLB as a fact of life. Almost 9 in 10 superintendents and principals say standards, testing and accountability are "here to stay." Most see these as important and pressing. But while NCLB is intended to raise standards and improve student learning, 6 in 10 school leaders say NCLB itself will require significant adjustments in order to work.

2 An "unfunded mandate."

Only 20% of superintendents say implementing NCLB is their top problem. According to Public Agenda's research, 70% of superintendents pick "insufficient school funding" as their top concern. But the two issues are related. Nearly 9 of 10 principals and superintendents say NCLB is an "unfunded mandate" - required but not fully funded by the government.

3 A mandate among many.

Having to cope with a flood of rules and regulations is one of school leaders' major complaints, and NCLB is just the biggest wave in a very stormy sea. More than 8 in 10 superintendents and principals say keeping up with local, state and federal mandates takes up too much time. They describe how confusing some of the federal regulations are, how difficult it is to make sure all employees understand the new rules, and how new federal laws such as this one sometimes conflict with state and local laws. It can be a complicated and time-consuming mess making sense of it all.

4 The good of NCLB.

Despite their concerns, many principals and superintendents see some good aspects of the law. The law requires that all teachers meet new standards for being "highly qualified" in the subject they teach, and more than half of superintendents and of principals say this is realistic. Majorities also say "testing students annually is useful because the data will show where improvement is necessary before it is too late." There are indeed doubts and misgivings toward NCLB but relatively little hardcore resistance to the basic intent of the law.

5 The public doesn't understand it well yet.

National polls indicate that most Americans have heard of NCLB, but a Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll taken around the same time as our poll found that nearly 7 in 10 people say they don't know enough about NCLB to say whether it's a good idea. A result like this is a classic warning sign that an issue is not well understood and that public attitudes may change over time.

Jean Johnson is executive vice president of Public Agenda

Tougher standards are already yielding results

By Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters

The educational establishment hates the push for standards and accountability just as teenagers hate it when parents barge into their rooms. Both prefer to live in the pigsty unencumbered. Both resent being made to clean it up.

No wonder. Change is never easy, and real change is often met with kicking and screaming. That's what we're seeing, just as the standards and accountability movement - embodied in No Child Left Behind - is producing results.

Today's high school graduates are more likely to be academically qualified to attend college than those of a decade ago, before the accountability movement took hold. And we can expect to see more progress if No Child Left Behind expands to high schools.

That's not to say things are just fine. About three of every 10 students who enter a public high school eventually drop out. And many high school graduates are ineligible for college because the requirements to graduate from high school are not aligned with the requirements for college admission.

Less than half of public high school graduates in the class of 2002 met the course requirements and were eligible to enroll in a four-year college. Given that the graduation rate was only 71%, this means a mere 34% of all students who entered 9th grade ended up graduating college-ready.

Even so, these low numbers actually reflect progress. While the high school graduation rate has hardly budged - it was 72% in 1991 - the percentage of students who leave high school college-ready has increased by about 9 percentage points since 1991. Thus, schools are graduating about the same percentage of students, but those who graduate are more likely to have taken the courses required to go on to college.

Students are more college-ready because learning expectations and high school graduation requirements are rising. Responding to reformers' concerns, many states increased the difficulty of their curricula and began requiring students to demonstrate mastery of more difficult material before graduating.

This movement culminated in NCLB. It consolidated in federal law the increased accountability that most states had already implemented, and forced the holdout states to follow suit.

Some critics worried that increasing standards would push low-performing students out of school. But this dire prediction has not come to fruition. The same percentage of students graduate from high school, but because of higher standards, today's diplomas are more likely to open the door to college.

Even with this improvement, college is still beyond the reach of almost two-thirds of all high school students, either because they don't graduate or because they don't take the courses required for college. Until these standards match, students will continue to graduate from high school unable to advance to college. Expanding No Child Left Behind to include high schools is an important step in closing this gap.

Jay P. Greene is a senior fellow and Marcus A. Winters is a research associate at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. They co-authored the forthcoming book Education Myths


— Jean Johnson, Jay P. Greene, and Marcus A. Winters
USA Today


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