Revising No Child Left Behind law
Ohanian Comment: Some want to dance a jig every time an editorialist sees something wrong with NCLB, but I seem to sink into a deeper slough of despond. Few editorialists seem to grasp the deep, fundamental flaws in the legislation. Putting a new coat of paint on a structure eaten up by dry rot doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The No Child Left Behind law invited criticism with its title alone, and indeed, it has left children behind. Underfunded and not sufficiently focused on the programs confronting urban schools, its major disappointments have overshadowed its minor successes. After five years in operation, however, there is something to build upon, and as Congress and the White House work to revise it with reauthorization looming, there is hope the law can become something much better than it has been.
The law is based heavily on standardized testing, a product of the disappointing performance of high school graduates when they reach college or hit the job market. That won't change dramatically, but schools should be able to make their case for achievement in ways other than one narrow parameter. This is the object of legislation proposed by Senator Christopher Dodd, who is pushing the most ambitious overhaul of No Child Left Behind.
Reformers, Mr. Dodd among them, want to end the policy of labeling entire schools as failing because they have a large score of students who are difficult to teach. This puts urban schools at a disadvantage because they have more low-income students or more students who speak limited English. Putting a negative label on those schools encourages parents to choice their students to another district or to a private school, which many educators suspect was the intention of President Bush all along in pushing for the act. Urban schools facing difficult challenges need a bigger piece of the revenue pie and a longer time period to bring their scores up to satisfactory levels.
The No Child Behind Act shortchanges music and art education at the expense of math and reading, and the Act should not be reauthorized unless that changes. A similar effort is under way in Massachusetts schools, where courses that enrich as well as educate should be regarded as key to the curriculum as reading and the sciences.
Underachieving schools and students need assistance from the federal government, not punishment. The No Child Left Behind Act has not spared the rod in its first five years, and as a result, it has underachieved. It needs to become smarter and more flexible.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES