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'No Child' Law Picked Apart as Renewal Fight Looms
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'No Child' Law Picked Apart as Renewal Fight Looms

Education

'No Child' Law Picked Apart as Renewal Fight Looms

'No Child' Law Picked Apart as Renewal Fight Looms
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Miller i

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), one of the co-authors of No Child Left Behind, says President Bush broke his promise to fund the law. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Miller

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), one of the co-authors of No Child Left Behind, says President Bush broke his promise to fund the law.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Spellings i

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says reading and math scores are at historic highs. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Spellings

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says reading and math scores are at historic highs.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The No Child Law: Chief Criticisms


The No Child Left Behind law was enacted six years ago with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it has since come under intense criticism from educators and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Now, as the law comes up for renewal, some are calling for an overhaul of the legislation, while others want to scrap it altogether. Read some of the chief criticisms against the law.

How did No Child Left Behind — the sweeping education law enacted six years ago with lofty expectations and political fanfare — come to be viewed as an unworkable, heavy-handed underfunded mandate, as some critics charge?

The answer depends on whom you talk to, starting with the law's co-author, Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

"No Child Left Behind was the most fundamental reform of federal education policy in 40 years. But when you have the president break his promise to fund those reforms, that poisoned the well," Miller says.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. The federal plan to improve public schools passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Six years later, the law has to be renewed, and now it's drawing overwhelming bipartisan opposition. Critics are picking it apart, and many of the presidential candidates want to scrap it.

A 'Clumsy' Law

There are other reasons the law has fallen short of expectations, says Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado. Romer is also the former head of the Democratic Party and the former superintendent of schools in Los Angeles.

No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, is "clumsy," requires students to take too many tests and is not as effective as it ought to be, he says.

"That's why it needs to be re-enacted. It needs to be improved. It should not be thrown away," Romer says.

Economist Richard Rothstein offers scathing criticism of the law's most important goal: getting every single student in America to perform at or above grade level by 2014.

"The notion that schools alone can create equal achievement for children of different social backgrounds is not based on any research. It's not based on a true understanding of what the many factors that contribute to student achievement are: [It assumes] that health doesn't matter, housing doesn't matter, that dysfunctional communities don't matter," Rothstein says. "I don't think we can make social policy on the basis of a myth."

Some Republicans in Congress now question whether the law was even necessary.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), who came to Congress the year the NCLB became law, says he would have opposed it and says it has put the U.S. on a slippery slope to federalizing public education.

"Where every child in the country is reading from the exact same book at the exact same hour, taking the same test at the exact same minute — that doesn't bring us to a world-class education. It brings us to mediocrity," Garrett said.

Garrett wants to give states the right to opt out of the law. It's an idea that several governors support, but Congress is unlikely to seriously consider.

So, with the renewal of the law in limbo, opponents have more time to chip away at other things they don't like about it.

Connecticut and a handful of school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont have gone so far as to sue the federal government, arguing that the law is an unfunded mandate and therefore unconstitutional.

Spellings Defends 'No Child'

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings doesn't sound like she's losing any sleep over the harsh criticisms of the law, and says reading and math scores are at historic highs.

But that's not because of the NCLB, according to Garrett. He says a study released by the Fordham Foundation, a nonprofit education policy organization, notes improvement in some educational areas but "they're modest compared to improvements we saw prior to NCLB."

In fact, the most dramatic gains in math began long before NCLB became law. Based on the education department's own data, reading scores have remained flat since the law took effect six years ago.

The achievement gap between blacks and whites, meanwhile, is still pretty big. A study from the Center for Education Policy — a public-school advocacy group — shows that if the gains under the law remain as meager as they've been thus far, it'll take decades to eliminate the gaps in math and reading.

Still, Spellings insists that short of a major revamping of the law six years from now, all students will be performing at grade level and there will be no gap.

"Remember, what we're asking for is grade-level reading and math ability by 2014. Is that too much to ask of our schools? I don't think so," Spellings says.

Miller says that Congress is determined to change the "No Child" law — if not this year, then next year, under a new administration. And, he says, those who think that Congress is going to give up on the law are kidding themselves.

Chief Criticisms Against the No Child Left Behind Law

The No Child Left Behind law was enacted six years ago with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it has since come under intense criticism from educators and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Now, as the law comes up for renewal, some are calling for an overhaul of the legislation, while others want to scrap it altogether. Here, a look at some of the chief criticisms against the law:

"No Child has 'narrowed' the curriculum": Because the law requires testing only in math and reading, many parents and teachers complain that other subjects—from recess to government—have been thrown out the window. This is hard to measure, but it is clear that schools do put a tremendous focus on reading and math ... and on test preparations.

That is particularly true for schools in need of improvement. The law's supporters say many schools have managed to improve their reading and math scores without dropping other subjects, by embedding reading and math into other classes. They also say that students can't learn other subjects until they are reading and doing math at grade level, so it's appropriate to place a priority on mastery of those subjects.

"No Child is too punitive": Many teachers take it very personally when their school is labeled "in need of improvement." They feel they are being blamed for many issues outside their control: high levels of poverty in some schools, growing numbers of English-language learners and special education students who can't perform at grade level.

Teachers' unions in particular feel that their members have been turned into scapegoats for larger problems, and they have fought hard to have the law repealed or amended. Supporters of the law say that for too long, low-income students suffered because of inadequate schools and that adults are finally being forced to take responsibility for students' success.

"The standard for adequate yearly progress is unfair": Under the No Child law, schools that fail to meet standards for "adequate yearly progress" — or AYP — for two years in a row face a variety of sanctions. Educators in low-income schools say their students start at a very low achievement level, so they should get credit for bringing these students closer to grade level. Instead, they say, their schools are punished if their students miss the bar by a few points.

Educators also complain about a requirement that every "sub-group" meet AYP standards. For example, if the school makes AYP on average, but low-income students fail, the school is judged as failing. The same goes for special education students, ethnic minorities and English-language learners. Schools complain that this requirement often punishes them for small failings, while masking larger successes.

"No Child is underfunded": Many educators say the law is yet another unfunded mandate. While the legislation did provide additional funds to help underperforming schools, states and districts say the testing mandate itself has cost them lots of time and money.

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