A Questionable Case for More No child Testing
In theory, President Bush's proposal to extend federal testing to high schools might be a good idea. Real-world experience with his No Child Left Behind Act, however, says Congress should move cautiously.
The benefit of imposing federal standards on the upper grades could be far outweighed by the variety of costs it may impose on schools. In his announcement Wednesday, Bush vigorously denied the new testing would be an unfunded mandate. The same was said of previous No Child provisions, which critics from both sides of the aisle say have been underfunded by billions of dollars - all absorbed by the states and localities.
And if Bush's $1.5 billion plan for testing and other new programs is paid for, as he said, with existing money, funding may simply be diverted from other education programs that are already being short-changed. Legislation for the current fiscal year, for example, calls for spending $20.5 billion on education programs for low-income and disadvantaged children. Congress appropriated only $12.7 billion.
Even in the unlikely event schools don't come out on the short end financially, other costs give pause. The loss of more local control over a historically local concern. The loss of curriculum flexibility for students moving toward a multitude of career options, from construction trades to the arts. The rigidity of a one-size-fits-all program that would require already successful schools to jump through the same restrictive hoops as proven failures.
Virginia in particular, where some legislators say No Child is not worth the cost of participation, may balk at further federal intervention. It already aggressively holds high schools to account through Standards of Learning tests.
Americans should share Bush's concerns about low graduation rates and math scores. They should share his desire to hold all schools accountable. But they should not accept at face value assurances that his No Child act expansion is the appropriate answer.
The Roanoke Times
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