issue guide: No Child Left Behind
No Child Left Behind (NCLB), today's version of the federal funding program for public schools, has been up for renewal since 2006. Seen as President Bush’s signature education policy, NCLB, which aims to insure all students are 100% proficient in reading, writing and math by 2014, has had mixed results when it comes to testing time. The law has also earned itself a legion of critics who say it sets demands too high and funding too low.
Since NCLB has been up for reauthorization, school districts and states, many of whom have been chafing under the bit of the law's guidelines, have been jumping at the opportunity to ease up on the act's demands - but the bill made little movement in the past two years. That could change with the arrival of a new administration. Already there is growing tension among educators in expectation of an imminent overhaul of NCLB. The two - largely Democratic - camps differ over whether NCLB needs stronger accountability measures or whether more effort and funding needs to be put into teacher preparation and student support. (NYT)
What the Debate's About
NCLB has high goals, but many educators complain that its means for reaching those goals are unrealistic, especially with the amount of cash DC offers the states to get there.
At the heart of NCLB are test scores and the requirement that all schools – both low and high performing ones – move toward 100% proficiency in reading, writing and math by 2014. The act also says it’s not enough if a school on the whole is making progress; each subpopulation – racial minorities, disabled students and students learning English – also have to be gaining academic ground. The act also aims to empower families by giving parents of students in the poorest schools that don’t make progress the right to transfer to a better performing school or to get tutoring at their current school.
The critics claim, however, that the act doesn't follow through with the money to account for all the paper work and support the act's demands. Others say schools are unfairly penalized because successful schools can receive poor ratings when only small subpopulations fail to score well. Parents complain that their options to transfer look good on paper, but rarely pan out in reality, as better schools are not always close to home. Then there are the cynics who hint that NCLB is part of a plan to discredit public schools – by showing they can’t meet high standards – so that a system of school vouchers will look more attractive in the future.
Other lower-profile points of contention are NCLB’s push for what it calls “proven education methods” and funding for faith-based organizations.
Where Things Stand Now
With its focus on the economic downturn, health care reform and global warming, its doubtful Congress will be able to squeeze NCLB renewal into its schedule this year.
Updated June, 2009
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