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NCLB Outrages

'No Child' act historic shift for America

By Rep. John Boehner

Recently, we marked the fourth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education reforms. Ever since President Bush came to Hamilton to sign this measure into law, much has been made of the progress and promise of NCLB. And for good reason. It represents the single greatest shift in federal education policy in more than a generation.

After spending more than $300 billion in federal education dollars over the prior 35 years with little or no results, NCLB established a framework to grant states and local schools unprecedented flexibility in the way they deliver an education to our students and, at the same time, ensure they are held accountable for results. Prior to NCLB, the federal government enacted a patchwork of education laws that essentially shipped billions of dollars to states with no framework to gauge success and - frankly - no expectation of results. But in 2002, that practice ended.

When you pass a law that calls for real change, it will inevitably be followed by some bumps in the road, and some grumbling. That's certainly been the case with NCLB, but that's to be expected. Meaningful reforms are rarely achieved easily.

Some claim NCLB is "underfunded." Not so. In reality, funding to schools attended by the most underprivileged students (those most often "left behind") has increased more in the four years since we enacted NCLB than it did in the previous eight years combined.

Some claim NCLB "punishes" struggling schools. Not so. In reality, when a school is identified by its state as needing improvement, both the school and the parents of children attending that school qualify immediately for extra help. Additionally, "sunshine" is aimed at these schools so parents whose children attend them know exactly the type of education their child is (or is not) receiving. As Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently put it: "At the end of the day, no parent thinks it's too much to ask for his or her child to be learning at grade level. And no taxpayer thinks it's too much to ask schools to show us how students are performing."

Some also claim the Bush administration's implementation of NCLB has been rigid and inflexible. Not so. NCLB rejects the "one size fits all" approach in favor of an accountability system that lets states and local school officials continue to call most of the shots, as long as they can demonstrate to parents that students are learning. It also allows common sense regulatory adjustments to be made - without the need for legislative action - which has allowed the U.S. Department of Education to "fine tune" the implementation of NCLB.

Such fine-tuning has helped schools right here in Cincinnati focus on the needs of disadvantaged children like never before. The department's new rule on assessing students with disabilities will "give local schools more flexibility without sacrificing the rights of these students to a good education," wrote the editorial staff of The Enquirer in December 2003. Students, who might not have participated in state assessments in the past, now "cannot be excluded from testing simply because, for example, they have mild disabilities that still permit them to participate in the same tests taken by peers. Instead, special accommodations, such as increased time or use of assistive technology, may be provided to help these students take the tests."

In school districts across the nation, NCLB has changed the question from "How can we educate some children?" to "How will we educate all children?" It's about changing attitudes. After four years of ups and downs, we're succeeding. A high-quality education is within reach for more children now than ever before.

Rep. John Boehner represents Southwest Ohio's 8th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives

— Rep. John Boehner
Cincinnati Enquirer


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