Republican Congressman to Introduce No Child Left Behind Alternative
By Monisha Bansal
With the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) scheduled for reauthorization this year, some in Washington are judging the effects of the federal education policy.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), now a member of the House minority, plans to create his own education proposal, because he is unhappy about the bureaucratic elements that have arisen over the last several years.
"You have a bunch of unintended consequences out of No Child Left Behind that destroy our public education system," Hoekstra said at a discussion at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
"With No Child Left Behind we shifted down the road toward federal government education," he said. "We are now on the road to a national curriculum, national accountability, national testing ... and then we will also have a process of federally mandated corrections standards for those who don't meet the standards."
Hoekstra added, "Every school in the country will begin to look exactly the same. Say goodbye to local control, and say hello to federal government schools."
Under his proposal to be introduced next week, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act of 2007, states would no longer be required to follow regulations tied to federal funding, and it would allow them to "assume full responsibility for the educational needs of its students."
But Andrew Rotherham, co-director of the education think tank Education Sector and a member of the Virginia State Board of Education, said, "The reason we're in the jam we're in is in no small part because of the states."
Rotherham said the federal government has had to intervene to improve equity in America's school systems as well as the quality of education.
"It just doesn't work," Susan Neuman, former assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the Department of Education, said of the NCLB. "We've stopped improvement with greater accountability."
Under the NCLB, students take 14 standardized tests between grades three and 11 on math and reading. Hoekstra noted that this number is likely to grow with the reauthorization to 84 or more standardized tests as more subjects are added.
Bush has mandated that children be proficient in math and reading by 2014. "This notion that by 2014 all children will be proficient is a fantasy, and it's rhetoric and it's unfortunate, and it's turning people against and afraid of our schools," Neuman said.
Neal McCluskey, a political analyst with the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, told Cybercast News Service that Hoekstra's proposal "probably won't be enacted given the political circumstances."
Hoekstra was cast into the House minority when Democrats swept control of the chamber in November.
"I think a lot of this depends on how badly President Bush wants to have a reauthorization of his education law as part of his legacy," McCluskey said. "If he wants it badly enough, I think he will be willing to compromise [with congressional Democrats].
"I think we will definitely see it happen before he leaves office," he said.
"Virtually all behavior in Washington over the last several years has been covered by political considerations," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). "Politics is a curious form of juvenile delinquency."
Armey said the NCLB is not about effective policy, but about politics.
"No Child Left Behind has always been a major political initiative of the Bush administration, and it has scarcely been anything other than that," he said. "There will be very little about this education bill that will be intellectual, and a whole heck of a lot that will be political and emotive."
"Federal education programs live or die by whether or not they work politically, not academically," said McCluskey.
But Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom, defended the intent of the NCLB, even though he is a strong critic of the program.
"The NCLB's goals of raising academic achievement and diminishing the gaps between socio-economic groups are admirable and universally popular," Coulson said.
"But the regulatory means by which the law tries to achieve those goals is ineffective, harmful, contrary to policies that actually do work, and unconstitutional," he said, noting that the U.S. Constitution does not address education.
Coulson said students would be better served by allowing school choice or vouchers.
"A vast body of empirical research points to competitive education markets as significantly better than bureaucratically-run school systems in achieving all of the NCLB's goals," he said.
"Parents will become meaningful consumers," McCluskey added, as they will choose the schools that serve their children best.
But Neuman disagreed. "Some of you believe choice alone will make a difference. It will not," she said. "We know that from the existing provisions in No Child Left Behind."
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES