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NCLB Outrages

Two Views of NCLB

Ohanian Comment: If he'd stop talking about the Standards crap, Bill Richardson is a guy we could love--and support. Notice how both of these views position standards as a critical and necessary element in the whole scheme of things. In truth, standards are at the root of the problem. Hmm. I wrote a book about that. Here is the table of contents of One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards:

I. What's Wrong with Standards
1. Whose Standards These Are, I Think I Know
2. Standard Timetables for Nonstandard Kids
3. Standard Fare: The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Ignored
II. With Liberty and Standards for All: Looking at Standards Around the Country
4. The Baseball/Medical Metaphors That Rule and Ruin Education
5. Californication
6. It's the Economy, Stupid
III. Fighting Back
7. Counting on Kids and Their Teachers

Our view on education: Five ways to improve No Child Left Behind


The 5-year-old No Child Left Behind law is up for renewal this month, and its fate is uncertain despite notable success.

President Bush's signature domestic achievement has brought accountability to school districts that for decades shamefully buried their failures in grossly understated dropout rates and vastly overstated academic achievement. Scores of inner-city schools have improved dramatically.

But the law is under fire from the left (teachers' unions dislike its rigidity), from the right (conservatives dislike federal meddling in local education) and from critics across the spectrum who dislike the annual testing designed to ensure that all students are learning.

The law does have flaws. Too many schools, for instance, are ensnared in its needs-improvement lists. The appropriate response, however, isn't to scrap the whole act or to water down its emphasis on reading and math. Here are five ways to improve NCLB without undermining its promise:

* Provide new options for students in failing schools. The current choices for children trapped in faltering schools ΓΆ€” free tutoring and the opportunity to transfer ΓΆ€” are nearly useless. The quality of free tutoring has proven to be erratic. And in cities such as Cleveland or Washington, what good is a transfer option if no high-performing schools are available nearby? What would work is the opportunity to transfer across school district lines from a persistently failing school to a successful school in a neighboring district.

* Make sure good teachers stay in schools that need help. Many districts allow their toughest schools to be staffed by the newest, lowest paid teachers and let more experienced teachers transfer to better schools. One way to reverse that would be to demand that federal dollars set aside for poor children actually get spent on those children. That means offering substantial bonuses to teach in struggling schools and exposing the fatter payrolls in better-off schools.

* Get serious about turning around failing schools. Schools that fail to make adequate progress for more than five straight years ΓΆ€” there are about 1,300 of them nationally ΓΆ€” are allowed to spin their wheels while making only cosmetic changes. Fixing those schools requires states (with federal help) to develop school turnaround teams of administrators and teachers that move into troubled schools until they are fixed.

* Allow schools to trade time for quality. The law says all students need to be at grade level by 2014. That's an admirable goal, but it has all the reality of Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor's fictional town where all the children are above average. Since pushing back the goal is inevitable, it should be possible to win some trade-offs in the process. States such as Mississippi, which set embarrassingly low standards, could be given extra time in return for raising them.

* Narrow the hit list. By naming thousands of schools to need-improvement lists rather than hundreds, the law has been more righteous than popular. To survive, it needs broader support. Schools that are generally OK deserve flexibility. They especially need to stay off any list that allows them to be carelessly labeled as failing schools.

By testing everyone, and breaking out the scores by race and income levels, No Child Left Behind has revealed unacceptable gaps in the ways children in the USA are educated. Whether it can close those gaps is yet to be determined. This much is sure: The answer will never be known if the law is snuffed out before the age of 6.

Opposing view: NCLB fails our schools

By Bill Richardson

I have a one-point plan for No Child Left Behind: Scrap it.

NCLB has failed. It has failed our schools, it has failed our teachers and it has failed our children.

The Bush administration claims victories, but upon closer scrutiny it becomes clear that the White House is simply dressing up ugly data with fancy political spin. Far from leaving no child behind, President Bush seems to have left reality behind.

Just look at the facts. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows a slight narrowing of the racial achievement gap over the past three years. This narrowing, however, is due to a decline in overall reading scores, not to improvements in minority student performance.

This is not progress.

Review the figures, and you will see that our schools are not failing NCLB; the program is failing our schools. In some grades, reading and math scores have actually declined for Hispanics, African-Americans and others. The current pass-fail rating system is worse than meaningless ΓΆ€” it's counter-productive. If a school needs help, we should help that school. We shouldn't punish it, as NCLB mandates.

We need to move beyond the empty rhetoric of No Child Left Behind. We must provide our public schools with what the National Education Association refers to as the three R's ΓΆ€” Responsibility, Respect and Resources.

The key to this improvement is respecting teachers. I signed a law in New Mexico that pays teachers a professional salary. As president, I will fight for national average starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000 a year.

Teacher salaries are just the beginning. Quality pre-K programs allow children to show up in first grade ready to learn. These programs must be available to all children.

Finally, we need strong academic standards aligned with the needs of today's workforce. America's schools were designed for the 20th century economy ΓΆ€” this is no longer sufficient. Our children need to graduate ready to engage with the New Economy, not the old one.

True education reform requires more than a set of unfunded mandates and a list of failing schools. It requires a vision for success, the state and federal funding to match, and the experience to bring real reform to America's failing schools.

Bill Richardson is the governor of New Mexico. He is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

— Editorial and Gov. Bill Richardson
USA Today


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