LEAVE "NO CHILD" BEHIND
Why are they so reluctant to "smash the cornerstone of President Bush's education-reform plans" ahdn they admit it's ill-advised? And let's stop claiming it has "the best of intentions." That is a lie.
No Child Left Behind - the ill-advised, one-size-fits-all federal
education plan - needs a major overhaul when the new Congress convenes in January.
The law, widely described as having the best of intentions, won
overwhelming approval in the shoulder-to-shoulder days after Sept. 11.
But most states have struggled with its nettlesome mandates and
unreasonable expectations, and actually played a waiting game this fall,
hoping the new Congress would repeal the law before penalties for non-
compliance kicked in.
But rather than smashing the cornerstone of President Bush's
education-reform plans, Congress should work with the White House on a
slimmed-down, healthier version of the law.
Legislators should free the nation's public schools from the unfunded
mandates, unnecessary entanglements and impossible edicts of the law.
Not one state out of 50 met the deadline for having "highly qualified
teachers" in each classroom, and only a handful have been given full
approval of their testing systems. All 50 states have made some attempt
to fix or circumvent the law, ranging from legislatures demanding
federal money to cover costs to requests for exemptions from certain
This is what happens when the federal government meddles in what is
traditionally a state and local matter. Congress should give local
districts flexibility to determine what constitutes a "highly qualified"
teacher. In much of rural America, it's wholly unrealistic to expect
every instructor to have specific credentials in each subject area they
teach. Many teach more than one course (and in some areas, one person
will teach all of the courses).
In 2004, responding to complaints from educators, Washington issued a
new rule saying teachers in rural districts who are highly qualified in
at least one subject would have three years to become highly qualified
in the other subjects they teach.
The move was ample proof that the feds just don't get it. A three-year
extension won't suffice. These teachers will be teaching during that
time, not stockpiling credentials.
Instead, the law should allow local districts to decide for themselves
what constitutes "highly qualified." We're guessing the answer will be
simple: Any teacher whose students are learning and advancing. Skill,
effort and commitment can often trump a Washington index of credentials.
Congress also should address the wildly optimistic goal of having all
students proficient in math and reading by 2014, and drop the penalties
for districts that don't achieve what the law calls "adequate yearly
A bizarre provision actually penalizes schools that are making great
strides but still aren't meeting adequate yearly progress in reading and
math. Each school not only has to hit a certain target of students who
are proficient in the subjects, but each of the school's subgroups, such
as minority groups or low-income students, also must meet that standard.
If even one subgroup falls short, the whole school fails and could face
The No Child law does require that testing data be provided for the sub-
groups, which we think is important. That way schools can no longer hide
behind high overall test scores led by a large, high-achieving group
while another, such as a bloc of minority students, lags behind.
Colorado schools were ahead of the game when No Child was signed into
law in January 2002, having already installed a program of standardized
tests and school accountability. We think it makes sense for all states
to have these assessment tools. (Not that our system has succeeded:
Colorado has one of the worst records in the country for actually
graduating its high school students and sending them on to college.)
By stripping away the top-down No Child Left Behind mandates, the
remaining provisions for testing and standards will prove useful to
local school boards and parents as they examine the successes and
failures in their schools and classrooms.
That's where education decisions should be made, not in Washington.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES