After two years, it's more clear than ever that 'No Child Left Behind'—without adequate funding—spells disaster for schools.
January brought the two-year anniversary of the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—dubbed "No Child Left Behind." But millions of teachers and education support professionals were in no mood for confetti and noisemakers.
NEA President Reg Weaver spent much of January hearing about—and commenting on—the damaging effects of ESEA, which has created a new layer of testing bureaucracy and resulted in thousands of schools being negatively labeled.
In Birmingham, Alabama, Weaver visited four Jefferson County schools. Educators there told a familiar story: ESEA has created new mandates for testing, accountability, and teacher quality, while local schools are struggling with increased budget shortfalls.
Afterward, noting that large numbers of Alabama teachers and support professionals may be laid off this spring, Weaver told reporters covering his visit that Alabama and other states are being hit with new ESEA mandates even as they're being socked by budget deficits. While emphasizing that NEA supports the goal of raising achievement for all children, Weaver said the federal government hasn't provided the support for school systems to successfully implement the new law.
"The problem with the so-called No Child Left Behind law is that it's difficult if not impossible to implement," Weaver said in the evening news broadcast on WVTM-13, Birmingham's NBC affiliate.
Returning home from Alabama, Weaver fired off an op-ed in response to a USA Today editorial that criticized NEA's stance on ESEA. "Voters worry about the law's one-size-fits-all testing requirements and the resulting bureaucracy and paperwork, which this law dumps on states and schools to historical highs," Weaver penned. "What it doesn't provide are funds for what will truly make a difference: small class sizes, quality teachers and support professionals, and up-to-date books and materials."
One day after his op-ed was published, Weaver kicked off a news briefing at NEA headquarters to release additional evidence of the public's backing for a stronger, more substantial federal role in supporting public school systems and schools.
In a bipartisan poll commissioned by NEA, two-thirds of voters said the federal government should be spending more on the nation's schools. The same poll, a survey of 1,005 registered voters, found that 81 percent said schools should be given more time to meet new ESEA standards if the federal government fails to provide the funds promised in the law.
Another NEA study released at the briefing found that nearly 60 percent of the 8.5 million children eligible for Title I-A programs in FY 2003 went unserved, because lawmakers have not come up with the necessary funds. Overall, ESEA federal spending fell $32.6 billion short of what was required to reach every child.
With Weaver at the briefing were seventh-grade English teacher Linda Hodgson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Eastover, South Carolina, Principal Dorothy Ham. They gave reporters an earful about how ESEA has made things tougher—not better—for their students.
Hodgson said South Mountain Middle School, where she teaches, has carved 90 minutes a week out of the curriculum to practice for tests. "I no longer get the time I'd like to teach Twain and Shakespeare to students." Truancy and violence at the school also are on the rise, Hodgson said, because of an influx of students being transferred in based on yet another provision of ESEA.
Allentown is a tough place to work, but Hodgson said, "It's where I'm needed the most, so it's where I'll stay."
Hodgson and other educators deserve greater support, however. Educators "need the flexibility and the resources to ensure that No Child Left Behind is more than empty rhetoric," Weaver said.
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