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NCLB Outrages

A Primer on No Child Left Behind

A Minnesota reporter notices the Educator Roundtable petition calling for the end of NCLB.

by Isaac Peterson

How has No Child Left Behind affected public education in Minnesota? It's a mixed bag, area educators say.

But first, here's a refresher course on how NCLB came to be adopted:

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was heralded at the time as America's promise to our children. While the act has undergone mostly minor changes during various reauthorizations, it has remained the basic blueprint for public education in this country.

Then came the No Child Left Behind reauthorization in 2002. Although NCLB was intended to introduce high educational standards and accountability into the public schools, many of its provisions have been controversial with educators, parents and lawmakers.

The National Education Association, for instance, has been a vocal critic of NCLB; it issued a critique that focused on three priority areas that it hopes Congress will change when it considers reauthorizing NCLB this year or next. The NEA recommends that NCLB should include more than test scores as measures of learning and performance; class sizes should be reduced to help students learn; and the number of highly qualified teachers should be increased.

Other criticisms are raised in an online petition put out by the Educator Roundtable, which has received more than 30,000 signatures from around the country. Among the petition's 16-point list of concerns: No Child Left Behind misdiagnoses the causes of poor academic performance and improperly blames students and teachers for circumstances over which they have no control; neglects the teaching of higher-order thinking skills and assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure education-related problems.

Matt Mohs, assistant director of funding programs for St. Paul Public Schools, says the district would have pursued the same goals with or without NCLB. While Mohs acknowledges criticisms of NCLB, he is also quick to point out that, "It's actually been one of those things that has its pluses and its minuses. For St. Paul, it's really helped further the agenda of improving achievement for all students and raising awareness around areas that maybe Minnesota hasn't been so strong in historically, as well as areas that St. Paul was beginning to move forward on prior to NCLB."

Sharon Freeman, St. Paul's assistant director of Adequate Yearly Progress Early Intervention, agrees with his assessment. Freeman, former principal at Prosperity Heights Elementary, a nationally recognized school for achievement, says that NCLB would not have affected her school's performance and that it "wouldn't have made a difference to me or the staff."

Sarah Snapp, Mohs' counterpart in the Minneapolis Public School system, says that NCLB has helped to spotlight Minneapolis' progress toward the goals of closing the achievement gap and raising achievement for all students. "What NCLB says is that it's not just about access, it's about achievement and what are the standards? We have to make sure that all kids meet standards," she said.

Even so, Snapp has concerns with NCLB. "It has taken money out of the classroom because we are required to spend part of our Title I money on supplemental education services," she said. Those service providers include community groups, churches, nonprofit agencies and corporations. "We have to spend money paying for services from them and there's no accountability for those providers," she said. "We take money that would have gone to schools and classrooms and put them into these supplemental services."

Internal evaluations show poor results form some of those providers, she said, adding she would like to see them held accountable for their performance. "If you're going to put my results on the front page of the newspaper, then put these for-profit corporations' results on the front page too, if they're receiving public dollars. Let's be fair."

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Isaac Peterson :: A Primer on No Child Left Behind
While the Minnesota Department of Education declined comment, the Minnesota Monitor was able to obtain a list of recommendations issued by a "working group" convened by the department for improving NCLB. Snapp and Mohs were among the group of area educators and administrators.

The report, titled "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," takes a "mend it, don't end it" approach to NCLB.

The group recommends that NCLB and ESEA should:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...focus on building capacity at the state and local levels and extend the timeline for 100 percent proficiency."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...allow greater enforcement by the United States Department of Education to ensure that states have rigorous academic standards in place."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...allow greater flexibility for school choice options and greater accountability for supplemental services." This would include allowing states with strong school choice laws, such as Minnesota, to waive the school choice option.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...allow states to create a system for schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress that allows for rigorous and stable school improvement plans and also allow for differentiated consequences for schools not making AYP."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...properly include students with disabilities and English Language Learners."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...provide greater flexibility for the highly qualified teacher provisions and should enhance teacher quality."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...continue to focus on early literacy through Reading First, and provide funding for targeted services for pre-school literacy readiness. ...there should be a greater emphasis and focus on math and science that will increase student achievement in these areas and on better training for all teachers, including elementary teachers, in order to guarantee the delivery of effective instruction in math and science education."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...include a greater focus and emphasis on our nation's middle and high schools, but not at the expense of elementary schools."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...include strengthening resources at the state and local levels that will allow for rigorous implementation, capacity building and increased student achievement."

Recommendations for the Minnesota Department of Education were:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...continue building a strong statewide assessment system that includes a student growth model component. Congress should also allow flexibility in building a strong student growth model that is rigorous and aligned to state academic standards and graduation requirements."
ΓΆ€ΒΆ "...enhance its current State School Report Card by replacing the current formula for the STAR rating system with a student growth model and explore the feasibility of including a 'learning environment index.'"

A report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures goes much further in its criticism. Former Minnesota state Sen. Steve Kelley, who is now a Humphrey Institute senior fellow, was a member of the NCSL group.

Its February 2005 report is too lengthy to go into in detail, but its recommendations include:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Calling on Congress to "request a Government Accountability Office study on whether NCLB is an 'unfunded mandate' in the way it requires states to spend their own money or change their accountability systems to comply with the law." The GAO should also "conduct a comprehensive study into the costs to states and local school districts of complying with the administrative costs of meeting the proficiency targets of NCLB."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "Congress should amend NCLB in a way that eliminates direct federal regulation of local education agencies and limit its direct interaction with states."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "States should be allowed to use multiple measures in judging student performance. NCLB relies too much on testing, which is not an accurate measure of student performance, nor does it adequately identify under-performing schools."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Calls NCLB's requirement for all schools to be at 100% proficiency by 2014 "admirable" but "unattainable" and "puts states in constant risk of litigation for not providing adequate resources."

ΓΆ€ΒΆ "States should cease being coerced into NCLB participation and the penalties for non-compliance should be discontinued."

(The entire report may be viewed at http://www.ncsl.org/... Registration required.)

In addition to the various studies, members of Congress are proposing legislation that would allow states to opt out of NCLB with no loss of federal funding based on the premise that government should not be involved in an intrusive relationship with the states on education issues.

Former Sen. Kelley noted that the U.S. House leadership seems to support NCLB. And while it is intended to be considered for reauthorization this year or next, Kelley said his sources in Washington speculate that due to the coming election year and the focus on other pressing issues like Iraq, a vote in the Senate may not come until 2009. In the meantime, Kelley said, it is likely that Congress will allow NCLB to stay in effect until then by passing resolutions that will continue the funding without broad changes to the language of the legislation.

"Everybody agrees that [giving every child a real opportunity for success and lowering the achievement gap] is what should be done," Kelley said. "Opposition to NCLB isn't opposition to the goal; it's opposition to how NCLB goes about achieving that goal."

Minnesota Monitor


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