Leave Behind NCLB, Charge Critics

Monisha Bansal | Staff Writer | Thursday, September 06, 2007

Leave Behind NCLB, Charge Critics

(CNSNews.com) - With the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) scheduled for reauthorization this year, some in Washington say the federal education policy has been "ineffective and wasteful."

The NCLB - President George W. Bush's major education initiative - was first introduced in 2001. The act sets up strict goals for achievement through standardized testing of public school students.

The goal of the law is to ensure that all children graduate at grade-level performance by 2014.

"It set new parameters and guidelines by Washington on states that had really never appeared before and also new mandates and restrictions that were never here before," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) at a Capitol Hill briefing on Wednesday.

He noted that before the NCLB, states were tackling education problems on their own. But afterwards, the "federal government stepped in with a set of standards that were far more limited in scope."

"There were unintended consequences," said Garrett. He also said there is less flexibility for educators, who now are increasingly "teaching to the test." He also noted that the act "changed the focus from educating our kids to focusing on bureaucracy."

"The goal was to raise the standard. Instead, we have a proverbial race to the bottom," Garrett said, referring to states being able to set their own minimum standards for receiving federal aid.

"There is really a decrease in accountability back to parents and on student performance," he said. "NCLB has "taken the issue of accountability away from local control" and put it in Washington.

Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, said the NCLB should not be reauthorized and the federal government should not be involved in education.

"The Constitution gives the federal government no authority whatsoever in education," he noted during the briefing. "The results of NCLB prove how wise the Founding Fathers were to keep the federal government out of schools.

"NCLB's advocates have been claiming since 2004 - just two years after the law was passed - that it was really doing some good, that it was raising achievement overall, that it was closing the gaps," added Andrew Coulson, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute. But, he added, the "NCLB did not improve on preexisting conditions."

Coulson blamed the NCLB for "complete ineffectiveness and wastefulness," saying that "federal involvement in education has done no good and since NCLB, that trend has continued."

"Over the last 40 years the federal government has increased spending per pupil from about $50 to about $900 today, in real dollars," he said. "There has been no statistical change" in math and reading, the subjects tracked for NCLB.

"It's hard to imagine why we would continue to repeat the mistakes of the past," Coulson said.

McCluskey said the NCLB was passed for political reasons. "Politics had trumped principles, parents and children."

"Republicans - who had largely opposed federal intervention in education [supported] NCLB," he said. "Not that they thought it was a good law, but because they wanted to give their president ... a large domestic victory."

"As long as the federal government is collecting education money it will try to take over education," McCluskey concluded.

But in a speech in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said, "I find it amazing that we're actually debating whether or not it's reasonable to give every child the bare minimum skills they need to participate in our democracy and our economy."

"Instead of making excuses or blaming the law ... we should be supporting kids and teachers," Spellings added.

"We must target funding and support to the schools that need help the most. We must refuse to make any changes that would make us less accountable for educating every child to grade-level standards in reading and math, the gateway subjects for all other learning," she said.

Spellings added that the NCLB has been a success. "We've come too far to turn back the clock, or turn our backs on tens of millions of students. Instead, I look forward to working with [Congress] to fulfill the promise we made five years ago, so that not only do we leave no child behind, we make sure every child is moving forward."

Since the NCLB started, about 500,000 students have mastered basic math, said Spellings. Another 500,000 receive tutoring. And parents have more choices and better teachers today, she said.

"The latest results show more than 70 percent of schools met annual progress goals last year," said Spellings, adding that the NCLB provides clear-cut data on students' performance.

"Parents want to know if their child is learning on grade level," she said. "I realize this can be a difficult and profound question. That's all the more reason that the last thing parents need is more complication and more Washington wonkery."

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