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NCLB Outrages

Everyone Who Thinks Politicians Offer Solutions, Should Read This

Ohanian Comment: OK, now will people stop saying standards and high stakes testing are brought to us by some right wing whackos? This article is by George Miller, Senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, and Russlynn Ali, Director of the Education Trust-West. They glory in the fact that they share their views on NCLB with the Business Roundtable and the National Alliance of Business.. Got that? The Business Roundtable.

Much has been made lately over the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the historic federal education bill passed with broad Congressional support and signed into law by President Bush more than a year ago.

Among the biggest controversies is the NCLB requirement that states set a 12-year goal for all students to meet state proficiency standards in math and reading. Schools must make steady progress towards meeting this goal, or adopt increasingly rigorous reforms aimed at improving student achievement and targeting resources where they are most needed.

The problem is, now that California's success in meeting its own standards- based goals has real consequences, a chorus of voices wants to wave the white flag rather than continue, and intensify, the state's increasingly successful efforts.

The most recent example of this stance is a state advisory committee's recommendation that California meet NCLB's challenge by watering down its definition of academic "proficiency." In other words, move the educational goal posts, rather than the ball, down the field. To its credit, the State Board of Education rejected the recommendation. This kind of leadership is necessary to build an education system that adequately prepares all children for success in college, work and life.

But the fight is far from over. Widespread misinformation and false claims threaten to undo the state's initial steps in the right direction. Some of the confusion about NCLB is understandable. The U.S. Department of Education has been slow to issue guidance and in many cases has offered conflicting information about what the new law entails. But most of the misinformation is cleared up by even a cursory reading of the law or the available research literature.

-- The most frequent erroneous claim is that high standards will jeopardize California's federal education funding. In fact, the allocation of federal education aid to the state and its schools is not subject to change according to student test scores. Schools receiving federal funds must merely report on their progress and, where achievement falls short of state expectations, take steps to improve it. The biggest threat to funding comes from the Bush Administration and his allies in Congress who have broken their promises to properly fund the new law.

-- A second myth is that making all kids proficient on state standards is some new and unrealistic directive by the federal government. In reality, this has been California's exact goal since it first administered the standards exams in 1999. Suggesting that California's goal is now impossible merely provides cover for those who are reluctant or unwilling to try.

-- Perhaps the most insidious myth being perpetuated is that California's demographics make it impossible to expect much of its kids. This sentiment is more than just collective apathy. It is bigotry. Schools all over the country, in every type of community, have shown that all students -- minority and non- minority, rich and poor -- can succeed if they are held to high standards and given the requisite resources. It is time to put this myth to rest for good.

These pessimistic views fail to acknowledge California's culpability for providing less of everything we know that makes a difference in student achievement -- qualified teachers, rigorous curriculum and adequate resources - - to our neediest kids. The answer to the new federal challenge must not be to provide them with less rigorous standards and goals, too.

Proficiency on our state's standards exams reflects what students need to succeed in higher education and the workforce. As business groups from around the country have argued, higher math, science and literacy skills are necessary, especially for graduates who enter the workforce immediately after high school. That is why the Business Roundtable and the National Alliance for Business are some of the most active supporters of the new federal law.

There is legitimate room for debate about how the state should implement the new federal requirements. And we have real concerns about whether the state and the federal government will deliver the resources necessary for all children to have a decent opportunity to meet our state's high expectations. But we should not let myths and misconceptions about the new federal law, or the capabilities of children -- black, white, Latino, poor or rich -- limit our ambitions.

In both moral and practical terms, far too much is at stake if we get this wrong.

In both moral and practical terms, these people are indefensible.

— George Miller & Russlyn Ali
The Fate of Our Schools/Leave education myths, not California's children, behind
San Francisco Chronicle
March 18, 2003


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