The Future of 'No Child Left Behind' President Bush's signature piece of domestic legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, is up for renewal in 2007. There are many calls for changing the law, with some bipartisan support for preserving its key emphasis on testing and accountability for schools. But there's some uncertainty as to whether the reauthorization will actually happen this year, or next.
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The Future of 'No Child Left Behind'

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The Future of 'No Child Left Behind'

The Future of 'No Child Left Behind'

The Future of 'No Child Left Behind'

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President Bush's signature piece of domestic legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, is up for renewal in 2007. There are many calls for changing the law, with some bipartisan support for preserving its key emphasis on testing and accountability for schools. But there's some uncertainty as to whether the reauthorization will actually happen this year, or next.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

When President Bush was asked about his 2007 domestic agenda during his last news conference, he said he wanted to keep American workers competitive.

GEORGE W: Part of the competitive initiative agenda, which I have been working with Congress to recognize, is that the education of the young is going to be crucial for remaining competitive. And that's why the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is going to be an important part of the legislative agenda going forward in 2007.

BLOCK: The No Child Left Behind Law was passed five years ago, in a burst of bipartisanship that didn't last long. Now, it's time to renew the law.

And as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, many educators want changes.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Seems like every week, an education think tank somewhere in the country issues a paper declaring No Child Left Behind to be the best or the worst thing ever to happen to schools. But when you actually talk with educators in the field, it's amazing to hear how much the basic idea behind the law has become part of the education mantra.

AL HARPER: There is no excuse for failure and no child should actually be left behind. And all children can be successful and should be successful.

MARTHA BARBER: We need to truly believe that all kids can learn, otherwise, we shouldn't even be in education.

ABRAMSON: Al Harper is superintendent of the Elmont Union Free School District in New York State. Martha Barber works for the Alabama Department of Education. Both say without No Child Left Behind the achievement of poor and minority kids would still be a low priority. Yet both admit the law created unfair burdens for educators who teach those kids. Al Harper says Congress never came up with the money to pay for all the tests the law requires.

HARPER: Absolutely. If you tell me I am going to test on my kids, give me some resources to have substitute teachers. Give me some resources to grade those exams, those types of things.

ABRAMSON: And Martha Barber from Alabama says it's time to admit that progress has been slower than she had expected. She says there's no way that all school kids can become proficient in Math and Science by the year 2014, as the law requires.

BARBER: We need to sit down and be realistic and put in some lofty goals that need to be attainable goals.

ABRAMSON: Many schools complain they only get punished for not reaching those goals. They want Congress to give them credit for progress they do make with kids who start out way behind. The new Congress plans to look at that idea very seriously. Increased funding is only on the table, although that idea will have to compete with the thousand and one other ideas on the Democrats' plate.

Many educators also want more flexibility in assessing the progress of kids receiving special education. Carol Ann Bagman(ph), head of Special Ed for Maryland, says NCLB sets another unrealistic goal by requiring that most kids with disabilities take the same tests and make regular progress just like their peers.

CAROL ANN BAGLAND: Students with disabilities by definition are not achieving at grade level and are not making the expected academic outcomes or they wouldn't be in special education.

ABRAMSON: Bagland and others say that many good schools fail to make their No Child Left Behind targets simply because special ed kids can't make their goals. They'd like a new and improved version of NCOB to focus on schools that are truly failing all their students.

But parents and special ed advocates are likely to put up quite a fight. Many feel that No Child Left Behind broke down the wall that had long existed between special and regular ed. The law requires the use of the same tests and the same curriculum for nearly all school children.

LINDA VANCURIN: We have to be very careful.

ABRAMSON: Linda Vancurin(ph) with the Council for Exceptional Children says it would be disastrous if No Child Left Behind were changed in a way that lowers expectations for disabled kids.

VANCURIN: We want to keep raising the bar for our students because the fact is our students are going to graduate from college and they are going to go out into the workplace, whether they're going on to post-secondary education or college or immediately into the workplace, but that is where they are going to need to function.

ABRAMSON: Congress may well hold a bunch of hearings about these issues and you'll hear a lot about how important it is to reauthorize No Child Left Behind for another five years. But Congress is more likely to take the easy way out and just extend the law for another year.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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