Panel's chairman urges changes in No Child Left Behind law
It doesn't matter how crooked NCLB is, corporate-politicos will keep it--and expand it.
By Dan Hardy
WASHINGTON - When the No Child Left Behind law comes up for renewal next year, changes are needed to make it more effective, the chairman of a bipartisan commission said Monday.
The commission members generally agree that No Child Left Behind's signature features "are here to stay," former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes told reporters during a break in testimony here at George Washington University.
Barnes cochairs a bipartisan commission that has been taking testimony on the law. Monday's hearing was the final session before the commission drafts its recommendations to Congress early next year.
No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, was passed with bipartisan support and went into effect in 2002. It requires that students score at grade level on standardized tests with all students meeting proficiency by 2014. It also holds schools accountable if they do not.
The law "has dramatically changed the national conversation over education policy," Barnes said Monday.
While No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization by Congress next year, it is uncertain whether final action will take place until after the next presidential election, Barnes said. The law remains in place until action is taken.
Barnes said the features that will remain include testing to determine student performance, holding schools accountable for improving the academic performance of all ethnic groups as well as learning disabled children, limited-English students, and low-income children and establishing a year by which all students should perform at grade level.
The 13 panelists who testified at the hearing included deputy education secretary Raymond Simon, the presidents of both major teachers' unions, high-ranking national and state education policy officials, the CEO of the Edison Schools educational management organization and representatives of several well-known educational think tanks.
Simon said that "the law is working," but added that the Bush administration wants to see more accountability in high schools, where currently only the 11th grade is tested. He also said that there should be more "use of school choice and tutoring." Those features are included in the current law, but only about one percent of students in failing schools transfer to another school and only about 20 percent of students who are eligible receive tutoring. Simon also said he would like to see other subjects tested besides math and reading.
He concluded: "We hope that the commission ... will recommend to the Congress that (No Child Left Behind's) major provisions remain intact."
The 15-member Commission on No Child Left Behind that heard the testimony is headed by former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson and Barnes. It is composed of a cross-section of educational stakeholders and academic experts, including a former state teachers' president and the current board chairman of the Intel Corp.
While there was agreement on the law's main features, however, there was considerable discussion and differences in emphasis among the panel members and witnesses. Michael Casserly, the executive director of a coalition of big-city school districts, for example, said there should be a national standard that all students must meet. Currently, each state decides its benchmarks for passing.
But, Reg Weaver, the president of the National Education Association teachers union, disagreed saying there was no evidence a national standard would work.
Valerie Woodruff, Delaware's secretary of education, reflected the views of many when she said that instead of requiring that students in all schools achieve the same average score in order to meet federal accountability standards, the law should use a "growth model," where students meet the standard if they show continuing improvement.
Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust think tank, said that was fine, but only if students are expected to achieve proficiency in a certain number of years and the standards reflect the real educational needs of our society. Barnes said he too favors a growth model for accountability; Simon said during his testimony that the education department is experimenting with that system in two states.
Thompson and Barnes said during a press conference that they would both recommend that No Child Left Behind be changed to include some way of making sure that state accountability tests are more rigorous. "I don't think the states have been quite as honest as they should be in regard to their testing and standards," Thompson said.
Simon, the education deputy secretary, said during his testimony that he agreed "we need to have some discussion about the relative difficulty of the standards," but establishing a national accountability test would not be "possible in this political environment." And he cautioned that if a national standard were set, "it might be so weak it is meaningless."
There has also been widespread dissatisfaction with the use by different states of widely varying figures for the minimum number of students a school must have in a subgroup - minorities, learning disabled students, limited-English students and low-income students - before its scores can count for accountability purposes on state tests. Barnes said he favored setting a maximum number for a subgroup that states could not exceed. Some states now set that number as high as 100. This is important because the scores for the subgrop are not reported unless there are at least a minimum number of students tested.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES