This commentator casts NCLB as a conservative agenda. If that's true, why did so many Democrats vote for it--and continue to support it? Why are so-called progressives so afraid of labeling NCLB for what it is? A corporate initiative. I'm getting really tired of "progressives" refusing to name the forces behind this drive to destroy public education. Without a serious discussion of motives, this is beginning to sound like whining.
It hasn't been a particularly stellar year for education. There was Secretary Paige's "teachers are terrorists" comment and Bush's failure to fully fund the No Child Left Behind legislation while he slashed Pell Grants. The rash of standardized testing doesn't help students, either. Education expert Earl Hadley of the Campaign For America's Future looks ahead to how we can make 2005 a better one for American students—despite the Bush administration. To read a CAF report about revitalizing education, click here . [It's the FairTest report}
The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to count our blessings. What do we have to give thanks for? Well, the old education secretary is gone; anyone foolish enough to call the nation’s largest teachers union a “terrorist organization” needs a new job. Even better, Congress prevented Bush from killing a number of useful education programs—like dropout prevention, resource centers for parents and counseling for students.
And we have another gift: Secretary Paige’s replacement, Margaret Spellings, is said to be open-minded. With any luck, this will turn out to actually be the case, because there’s no doubt Bush’s base will demand that the president put more of his capital into their pet projects—like voucher experiments and abstinence-only education.
Regardless of whether Secretary Spellings will have the courage to take a stance against ideologically driven policies, the new education secretary is notorious for her loyalty to Bush and is credited as one of the architects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Practically, this means that Bush’s desire to further his testing regime by requiring additional tests in third grade and new tests in high school will move forward. Secretary Spellings’ nomination also means that the government will continue to push school transfers and tutoring as answers to the enormous challenges facing our public school system.
Bush will endorse these ‘solutions’ while ignoring the fact that there aren’t enough quality schools in disadvantaged districts to accept the majority of students in failing schools—and that NCLB doesn’t require wealthy districts to accept poor kids. Worse than setting up false hopes, the administration’s policies are harming students. In the Bush world of ‘No Child Left Behind’ an increased focus on after-school tutoring means fewer children receiving assistance. The Department of Education is demanding that ‘failing’ schools use private tutors to help struggling students—because you wouldn’t want the same ‘bad’ teachers tutoring these students. Of course, private tutoring firms cost a whole lot more, meaning fewer students will receive assistance.
Even if the rhetoric changes, the administration will continue to refuse to provide the funds needed to implement NCLB—-much less truly leave no child behind. Children will continue to be denied access to pre-school and after-school programs, high-quality teachers and an affordable college education. Is this what Republicans claim to have a mandate for? This doesn’t sound like the American values I was raised on.
There will be numerous opportunities to judge and challenge conservative ‘values,' policies and proposals over the next year—through both a new budget and the reauthorization of early, vocational and higher education legislation. We’ve seen what conservatives have proposed over the past four years—to allow states to use Head Start funding as they see fit, an increase in the amount students have to pay on their college loans and a huge cut in education spending in 2006. We’ve also seen the administration enact tax cuts for millionaires, placing the deficit on the backs of schoolchildren and their families.
As we learned this November, it’s not enough to simply point to the failings of the Bush administration. Progressives must push their own agenda. The Campaign for America’s Future supports the efforts of groups like FairTest to develop accountability systems that are aimed at improving—not punishing—schools. We support the numerous lawsuits appearing across the country demanding adequate funding for all students. We will provide platforms and a megaphone for their efforts. We know what Americans value in a public school system: accountability, equity and results. In 2005, progressives must show that these are our values—because they're just the president's rhetoric.
Earl Hadley, Education Program Coordinator, Campaign For America\'s Future
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES