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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind reform that we can all support

Ohanian Comment: I have no idea if there is any point in communicating with this self-satisfied creep. He states that he doesn't look at mail sent by people outside his voting district, so this is up to Californians to respond.

By Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.)

Five years ago, with enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, the United States ushered in a new educational era. With NCLB, we rejected the notion that disadvantaged children could not learn and began to demand results in exchange for the billions of dollars invested in education each year.

NLCB brought a sea change to our nation’s classrooms, and it’s no surprise that the road to implementation has seen a few bumps along the way. We have learned a great deal since the law was enacted, and its reauthorization presents a valuable opportunity to build on its strengths and improve its shortcomings. The law’s renewal also presents a steep challenge. While reforms have taken hold in schools from coast to coast, some in the education establishment, including the major teachers’ unions, still advocate for the pre-NCLB status quo where poor and minority children are held to a lower standard than their wealthy peers. Special interests are lining up to get a piece of the pie, calling for myriad new programs that would tie the hands of states and local communities. We must guard against these calls for retreat.

There is a better path to reform, one that will allow us to forge a consensus in Congress and put the interests of the nation’s disadvantaged students first, just as we did when the original NCLB was crafted. Members on both sides of the aisle came together then to build a bipartisan accord rooted in three core principles: accountability, flexibility and parental choice. The blueprint for bipartisan reform is simple. By adhering to the pillars of the original law, we can make it stronger.

We must maintain the law’s strong accountability measures. Already, states are annually assessing their students’ achievement in the basics of reading, math and science. The performance of this year’s third-graders is compared to the performance of last year’s, for example, to show that increasing numbers of students are achieving proficiency. These accountability systems can be strengthened through use of a “growth model,” which allows schools to track progress made by the same group of students over time. At the same time, we must not dilute current accountability with overly complex new mechanisms that would move away from the fundamentals of student learning.

We must enhance the flexibility offered to states and local schools. Under NCLB, states and local communities have more flexibility than ever before in the use of federal education dollars. The law moved in the right direction, but even more can be done to ensure local control. This includes allowing increased transfer among various federal education funding streams and greater flexibility in the development of state accountability systems.

We must increase the choices available to parents of children in underperforming schools. For too long, children were trapped in schools that would not teach them. NCLB created a way out for these students, offering parents the option to transfer their children to better performing public or charter schools or for their children to receive free tutoring to get them back on track. These new options have changed the lives of students and families, offering new hope and opportunities for success. Unfortunately, too few students have been able to take advantage of these tools. The reauthorization must expand the availability of parental options, making them available sooner and demanding that eligible students are not denied access.

Already, special interests and opponents of education reform such as the teachers’ unions are offering resistance to the reauthorization. This comes as no surprise to long-time reform advocates who know just how entrenched the education establishment can be. In many ways, reauthorization may prove even more difficult than passage of the original law. Then, no one knew how much this law would change our nation’s schools. No one knew how much it would empower parents, offering them choices and information to give them a voice in their children’s educational destiny.

We know this law is working. Test scores are on the rise, parents are taking advantage of new choices for their children, and states are working to place a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. We also know this law can be improved. It is possible to add flexibility without watering down accountability, just as it is possible to make new choices available to parents without taking away existing options.

An overwhelming majority of Congress supported passage of NCLB because it offered meaningful reform for our nation’s schools. The same strong support can be achieved this year if we refuse to cave to those who would chip away at any of the law’s core principles. Working together, Republicans and Democrats can solidify the legacy of this law.

McKeon is the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

— Rep. Buck McKeon
The Hill


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