Don't Leave So Many Children Behind
by Clarence Lusane
The education president's education project is failing. President Bush's
No Child Left Behind law has generated increasing bipartisan resistance
among legislators and at the grass-roots levels.
Passed in 2001, the act was supposed to launch uniform national
standards to measure the performance of U.S. public schools and
determine whether they were failing.
One of its stated goals was to reduce the academic achievement gap
between minority and poor children on one side and those from more
privileged backgrounds on the other. In many cities around the nation,
the black and Latino dropout rates exceed 50 percent, and in some poor
areas, the rate is even higher.
Since the law passed, dozens of states have requested and received
permission to alter significantly the way they measure student progress
under the NCLB Act. These deals have become necessary because, under the
law, failing or failed schools are punished by the loss of all federal
Recently, 20 states have applied to make the changes for either the
current school year or the next year. They want to receive credit for
students who, at the minimum, are moving toward proficiency in reading
In the 2004-2005 school year, of the 50,000 high-poverty schools in the
country, 9,000 are considered failed schools. This is a 50 percent
increase over the previous year.
States and schools continue to protest that they have not received the
resources to achieve the mandate that the administration has demanded.
And two important recent studies have blasted the administration of NCLB.
In 2005, a bipartisan report from the National Conference of State
Legislatures termed the federal government's role under the law
''excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public
education.'' The report also concluded that NCLB conflicts with
legislation related to disabled students.
What's more, although the act was supposed to address the racial divides
in U.S. education, a study by Harvard's Civil Rights Project suggests
that the opposite may be happening. This report criticizes the
administration for allowing states to deviate from the legislation in
ways that demonstrate a racial bias.
For example, it says some rural areas in Midwestern states were granted
extensions related to teachers achieving the qualifications mandated
under NCLB. These areas were disproportionately white. Meanwhile, other
poorer, urban areas with significant numbers of black, Latino and other
minorities were denied this option, thereby jeopardizing federal funding
in schools that were already resource poor.
Despite the rising cry to reform the legislation, even from many
Republican areas, the administration mechanically states that the act is
working. Bush is not only dismissive but also contemptuous of any
challenges to NCLB.
This stubbornness suits neither the president nor the nation's students
Clarence Lusane is an associate professor at American University's
School of International Service in Washington, D.C.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES