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NCLB Outrages

NCLB: More than just an unfunded mandate

As Dana Hanley observes, people who argue that NCLB is underfunded are accepting that the federal government has the right to set state and local education policy. That is why The Petition calls for the dissolution of NCLB.

By Dana Hanley

One of the most frequent criticisms of the No Child Left Behind act is that it is an unfunded mandate. In fact, on Tuesday, school districts in Michigan, Vermont and Texas, together with the National Education Association asked a federal appeals court to revive an old lawsuit, arguing that schools should not have to comply with requirements which aren’t funded by the federal government. The case has been taken under advisement, with no hint at when the court will rule.

Inherent in this argument is the acceptance of the federal government’s ever-increasing role in the education policy set at the state and local level. It seems that a simple constitutional argument could be made on the basis of the Tenth Amendment.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

I really thought the whole debate was more interesting back when states were asserting their rights, not just asking for more money. So instead of focusing on whether or not the federal government has any right to direct the educational decisions of the states, the states finally read the law and found buried within it a provision for sufficient funding in Section 9527 (a):

(a) GENERAL PROHIBITION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act.

So the only objection left now is paying for the federal government’s intrusion into states’ rights. How much are our states’ rights going for these days? There is no real consensus, but studies range from claiming that the increased federal funding more than pays for its requirements to Rep. Rubén Hinojosa’s (D-Texas) claim that there will be a $39 billion shortfall.

So the states will sell their rights for $39 billion. But will anything change?

In an insightful article first appearing in Edweek, the authors point out how many of our international competitors would fail at our proficiency standards.

On a 1991 international math exam, Taiwan scored highest. But if Taiwanese students had taken the NAEP math exam, 60 percent would have scored below proficient, and 22 percent below basic. On the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, 25 percent of students in top-scoring Singapore were below NAEP proficiency in math, and 49 percent were below proficiency in science.

On a 2001 international reading test, Sweden was tops, but two-thirds of Swedish students were not proficient in reading, as NAEP defines it. — Schools Matter

No amount of funding will accomplish the impossible. This is not to say there are not ways to improve our education system and to make greater strides toward closing the “achievement gap.” But in attempting to overhaul our education system with legislation with nice slogans, we have lost sight of any rational discussion of the real problems affecting education and how communities can be empowered to solve them.

— Dana Hanley
Homeland Stupidity


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