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NCLB Outrages

Growing Resistance to "No Child Left Behind"

Ohanian Comment: I would add that 18,500 people have signed a petition calling for the dissolution of NCLB. Not fixing. Not funding. Scrapping it.

The upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now named "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB), offers the new Congress an opportunity to repair the worst aspects of the federal law and turn it into a tool for supporting school improvement rather than punishing schools serving our most disadvantaged students. Though NCLB’s serious deficiencies didn’t rise to the top of the list of voters’ concerns in the recent elections (there was a lot of competition!), there has been no shortage of voices in the growing national chorus calling for NCLB reform.

For example, Communities for Quality Education has catalogued efforts in all 50 states to take action to fix NCLB since 2003. Many of these proposals focus on NCLB’s inadequate funding, but others seek substantive revisions or call for a state to opt out of NCLB entirely.

Parents, students and community leaders have spoken about the problems they see at forums around the country, including some sponsored by the Public Education Network. Surveys, such as the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, show that the more people know about NCLB, the more they disapprove of the law. NCLB's prescriptions are rejected by large majorities. In poll after poll, educators overwhelming oppose key NCLB requirements, finding the consequences more harmful than beneficial.

Nearly 100 national education, civil rights and religious groups have endorsed the “Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind Act” calling for major changes to the law. Many of the signers have also offered detailed proposals to amend the law. Congress should listen carefully to these many critiques and act on their recommendations when it comes time ESEA reauthorization.

Signers of the Joint Statement agree that NCLB's goal of narrowing achievement gaps and improving achievement for all students is a worthy one. But they have seen mounting evidence that its mechanisms for forcing improvement are harming those who most need help. Indeed, FairTest's review of the evidence shows that NCLB is actually undermining efforts to improve schools (documented and analyzed in Failing Our Children).

Key problems with the law include over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding or retaining in grade low-scoring children to boost test results; and inadequate funding. The law not only punishes schools, it damages educational quality, particularly for those the law purports to help – low income children, children of color, those with learning disabilities, and those who are just learning English.

What is a better roles for the federal government to play in improving education, particularly for low-income and minority-group children? The Joint Statement concludes, "Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."

In future posts I will present concrete proposals for overhauling the federal law, based on the Joint Statement. For now, I will close with five guiding principles from a recent FairTest article in Rethinking Schools:

* First, the goal should be high-quality teaching and learning to benefit the whole child, not drill-and-kill to artificially inflate scores on mostly multiple-choice tests in a few subjects.

* Second, a new law should focus on the capacity of schools to improve, including adequate resources, professional development, and stronger parental involvement.

* Third, any accountability structure must use multiple forms of evidence, not just scores on standardized tests, as the basis for making decisions.

* Fourth, sanctions must be a last resort and tailored to meet specific problems, not arbitrary actions using one-size-fits-all formulas. They should also be designed to build capacity for improvement, not punish schools and districts.

* Fifth, the new law should effectively empower educators, parents, and communities to work together collaboratively, rather than move responsibility ever further from local decision-making. It should also include equity and civil rights protections to ensure that local empowerment does not allow majorities the power to ignore low-income, racial minority, English-language learning, or disabled children.

— Monty Neill
The Pulse


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