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NCLB Outrages

A School Conspiracy?

Ohanian Comment: Here's what Vermont teachers face--editorials in the Burlington Free Press. Free to bash public schools. Invited to a teacher conference, the fellow who writes these was outspoken in his contempt for public school teachers.

Some Vermont educators apparently believe that Sen. Edward Kennedy, most of his fellow congressional Democrats and President Bush are engaged in a conspiracy to destroy public education through the No Child Left Behind Act.

"It's a weapon of mass destruction aimed at the well-being of our nation's public schools and the public's confidence in our public schools," said Angelo Dorta, president of the Vermont-NEA, during a conference earlier this month.

Hold on. No Child Left Behind was largely drafted by Bush and Kennedy and more House Democrats voted for it than their Republican counterparts. The measure was also supported by Democratic presidential contenders Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards.

It's absurd to think that all those people seek the demise of public education.

No Child Left Behind means just that. For the first time, the federal government is holding schools accountable for ensuring that each American youngster -- whether poor child, handicapped child, immigrant child, rural child or inner-city child --receives a quality education.

According to the 2003 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "nation's report card," roughly 70 percent of the country's fourth and eighth graders have reading and math skills below their grade level. Those falling below standards are disproportionately low-income and minority youngsters whose scholastic failings have long been tolerated by the public education system.

The primary criticisms of No Child Left Behind center on cost and accountability provisions. Those complaints are either premature or off-base.

As for academics, No Child Left Behind lets Vermont and other states define for themselves what constitutes a solid education. Vermont has done that with its Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities. In effect, the federal government is merely holding Vermont responsible for meeting its own educational expectations.

Likewise, No Child Left Behind permits each state to select its own test to measure academic performance. Vermont has done that, already mandating state assessments in grades two, four, eight and 10. The only significant federal change is that Vermont must also test grades three, five, six and seven.

It doesn't seem too much to ask young people to take one exam a year to help gauge how well schools are doing.

The other major gripe is funding. Some educators claim No Child Left Behind means approximately $130 billion in new costs annually.

That figure is disputed in a study released last week. James Peyser, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and Robert Costrell, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, say that federal funds earmarked for testing are "more than adequate."

They also note that between 2000 and 2004, federal educational spending increased from $23 billion to $37 billion. At most, Peyser and Costrell say, No Child Left Behind is underfunded by $8 billion nationwide, with the gap primarily concentrated in a few large states.

In truth, no one really knows how much it will cost to reach the No Child Left Behind goal that every American child is proficient in math and reading by 2014. Indeed, the goal may be impossible.

But the law deserves a chance to work. The federal government is right to expect that Vermont and other states fulfill their educational obligations to each child.

If that's a conspiracy, it's one most Americans would support.

— editorial
Burlington Free Press


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