'No Child' in need of overhaul
Editorialists announce they never thought the law could achieve its utopian goals. If someone has the time and resources, this claim should be checked.
As the five-year-old federal No Child Left Behind law goes up for renewal in Congress next month, it's not too much to ask Washington for a bit of humility this time around.
Did anyone seriously believe that, within a dozen years of the law's passage, every student in America would be "proficient" (not just barely functional) in reading, math and science - and that a thwacking with a figurative paddle would await any educator who left a single child behind?
Such can be the hubris of politicians who embark upon what they consider, perhaps even rightly, a noble cause.
We've never thought the law could achieve its utopian goals. And we've always opposed the notion that the federal government should interfere so intimately in the operation of local public schools. They should primarily be held accountable by parents, students, school board members and, depending on the issue, state officials.
That said, we support many of the ideas that inspired the original law. Standardized testing is an effective way to gauge student progress and to hold school systems and educators accountable if performance lags. And the law's emphasis on research, particularly involving the effectiveness of various curriculum offerings and teaching methods, is a welcome change from the attitude that teachers and ed schools always know best, even when the results are manifestly below par.
Problem is, local officials have at times been sidetracked by federal mandates that should have never been included in the original law.
Washington meddling has on occasion penalized pioneering states like Colorado, which administered its first accountability tests the year George W. Bush opened his second term as governor of Texas. Last year, for instance, the U.S. Department of Education threatened to withhold $185,000 in funding for low-income students because Washington thought this state's Spanish-language test wasn't adequate. The beef was resolved, but why should distant bureaucrats attempt to micromanage the content of state and local tests?
In the renewed version of No Child Left Behind, the Department of Education should start acting less like an enforcement agency and more like a think tank. It should emphasize several strengths of the initial law - especially those related to curriculum development and research.
It should eliminate the punitive measures that would cut off funding to schools that don't satisfy D.C. mandates. As the deadlines for compliance with the unrealistic (and ultimately impossible) standards draw near, the tendency will be for Washington and the states to let standards erode so that more and more students are deemed proficient. That will hardly help students learn.
Teachers and administrators abound who make heroic efforts to ensure that every young person in their charge is fully prepared to move to a higher grade or to graduation. The original No Child Left Behind law required every state to enter the same trail that Colorado helped blaze more than a decade ago.
Federal law should encourage those efforts and stop penalizing state governments and local school districts that are unable, despite their best efforts, to accomplish impossible tasks.
Rocky Mountain News
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