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NCLB Outrages

Extension of Schools Act Faces Resistance

Ohanian Comment: All the (regrettably many) educators calling NCLB "conservative" may have to change their tunes as Republican look like our best hope to derail the law's expansion. Just remember: NCLB can be traced to a Business Roundtable agenda of the 1980's. Read Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?

WASHINGTON -- At first glance, President Bush seems well positioned to expand his No Child Left Behind Act of academic standards, testing and accountability to the nation's high schools.

He has larger Republican majorities in Congress. His nominee for education secretary -- a top strategist behind the 2002 legislation creating the program in grade schools -- is expected to sail through a Senate confirmation hearing this week.

What's more, the nation's governors are teaming up with education experts next month for a summit on reducing high school dropout rates and raising diploma standards. It's just the sort of forum Bush used early in his first term to build bipartisan momentum for a federal mandate aimed at lifting student achievement in elementary and middle schools.

Yet education analysts and some lawmakers warn that Bush could encounter stiff resistance -- from the left and the right -- when he tries to expand No Child Left Behind.

"I don't know if there's political will on (Capitol) Hill to expand testing in high school," said Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "I don't think the consensus is there."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who sided with Bush to pass the law, said he wouldn't do so again unless the president agreed to erase what Democrats said was a multibillion-dollar school funding shortage. "If you want real education reform, you can't do it on the cheap," Miller said.

Among Republicans, some grumble that the federal government is meddling too much in school affairs. Days after the Nov. 2 election, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the incoming leader of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, wrote that Congress should "reform the No Child Left Behind Act to reverse the expanding federal role in primary and secondary education, which is a state and local function."

Pence was in a small minority within his party when he voted against the measure in 2001. But so was Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who is now House majority leader.

Even Bush's allies on Capitol Hill say he will have to win over many GOP skeptics.

The law Bush signed in January 2002 called for schoolwide reading and math tests in grades 3-8. It also requires states to spotlight schools that fail to show adequate progress from year to year, and shake up those that consistently lag.

In September, Bush unveiled a plan to require testing every year in grades 9-11. That would effectively triple the federal testing mandate for high schools that requires one year of high school testing.

Many details of Bush's plan need to be worked out, but the president made clear after his re-election that he would not relent. His plan calls for $250 million to help pay for the additional tests and $400 million to boost remedial reading programs and identify students who may need extra help at the outset of high school.

As he introduced his nominee for education secretary on Nov. 17, Bush said, "Margaret Spellings and I are determined to extend the high standards and accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act to all of America's public high schools. We must ensure that a high school diploma is a sign of real achievement, so that our young people have the tools to go to college and to fill the jobs of the 21st century."

— Nick Anderson
Los Angeles Times


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