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NCLB Outrages

Extending the Overextended

Ohanian Comment:
At first glance, some may take hope from this update on NCLB from a so-called liberal think tank. After all, they point out that the Houston miracle is now in shambles.

Don't get your hopes up. These guys don't want to scrap NCLB; they want to fund it and improve its basic tenets. They want NCLB to be bigger and better

Despite underfunding his landmark education initiative by $9.4 billion in 2005, President Bush on Wednesday proposed a $1.5 billion federal initiative to extend No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing requirements to America's high schools, calling for a "mandatory battery of reading and math tests in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades." With a ballooning deficit and several "unfunded mandates" already dotting the president's domestic agenda, Bush's proposal "may be squeezed fast." Congress, for example, "took Bush's $100 million request for his 'Striving Readers' program and cut it to $25 million this year." The announcement comes less than a week after conservative columnist Armstrong Williams admitted he was paid $240,000 by the government to tout NCLB – which he had formerly criticized. The episode was the latest reminder of the Bush administration's crass politicization of an education initiative which has lost its once bipartisan support.

STIFF RESISTANCE: Though NCLB once had broad support, Bush's new announcement is likely to meet with "stiff resistance." Even progressives who sided with Bush when he passed the original law – such as Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) – have said they are unlikely to do so again "unless the president agreed to erase…a multibillion-dollar school funding shortage."

BAD STATE OF AFFAIRS: Bush's proposed expansion of NCLB is also likely to meet with resistance in several states. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Iowa, Montana, Kansas, Idaho, Virginia and elsewhere has spoken out against the law, as their states have been hampered in attempts to comply with NCLB "by budget cuts and stringent requirements." In one resolution, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 98 to 1 to for a resolution asking Congress to exempt the state from the program, stating the act represented "the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

AN UNFUNDED MANDATE: Bush tried to convince critics his program to increase testing in high schools would be fully funded. "We've got money in the budget to help the states implement the tests," he said. "There should be no excuse saying, well, it's an unfunded mandate. Forget it – it will be funded." But in 2003, the bipartisan National Governors Association voted unanimously to name No Child Left Behind exactly that – an "unfunded mandate," which means "the federal government isn't supplying the money needed to make the law work." Bush's FY 2005 education budget falls $9.4 billion short of the amount needed to fund the program, according to the National Education Association.

TEXAS DEBACLE: President Bush once again justified extending NCLB on Wednesday based on its success in Houston while he was governor of Texas, now known to have been greatly exaggerated (on which more below). While there has been some success in Texas with disadvantaged student achievement, reports have surfaced indicating Houston's "miracle" students are unprepared for higher education. The Houston Chronicle reports that "nearly two-thirds of 2004's graduating high school seniors now enrolled in Houston-area community colleges are taking remedial classes because they weren't prepared for college." Those are students who would have been enrolled in primary school when Bush's reforms were in place. The problem extends to four year colleges as well. "A report released this spring by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board found that half of the state's 2001 high school graduates needed remedial help in college."

FALSE MEASUREMENTS: Bush said the thing he liked about No Child Left Behind was that it "measured results." You can "say with certainty" when a school has turned around, he said, "because you measure." But "measurements" can be deceiving. Indeed, President Bush's vaunted "Texas Miracle" – used as a justification for launching NCLB nationwide – "is facing new doubts as allegations surface about possible cheating on test scores." Last week, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) "announced an investigation of 'suspicious' results on 2004 statewide tests." Already, investigators have discovered the supposed reform of public schools in Houston was "based on cooked books" – specifically the massive falsification of high school dropout rates and a misrepresentation of the difficulty of certain tests. Similar problems have been reported across the country.

A BETTER IDEA: Rather than extending an over-extended and possibly ineffective program, President Bush should focus on "improving and funding" the current NCLB and on building a stronger teaching force. Read American Progress's education initiative, which lays out a step-by-step strategy for assuring "that every public school student in America is taught by highly qualified, well-trained and adequately supported teachers."

— Christy Harvey, Judd Legum, and Jonathan Baskin
American Progress Action Fund


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