I have not been a big fan of "No Child Left Behind," (NCLB) the federal program intended to improve America's government schools. However, I recently received an interesting analysis published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a private/public partnership working to preserve Jeffersonian principles as they apply to governmental policy and practice. The article listed a number of "myths" and the corresponding "facts." Although NCLB is a federal program, it impacts education and is therefore of great interest to all of us in state government.
MYTH: NCLB is an unfunded mandate that forces states to comply with a one-size-fits-all education system.
FACT: The standards of NCLB have been financially supported by a 28.5% increase in federal funding (6.4 billion dollars). The states have also been empowered with greater flexibility. Rather than binding funding to specific programs, it is correlated to several broad areas such as academic achievement, quality teachers, parental choice, and accountability.
MYTH: NCLB is just a new list of federal mandates that states have to follow.
FACT: Many of the "new mandates" aren't new at all. Accountability measures were in place prior to NCLB. The 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act required each state to develop comprehensive academic standards and correlate those standards with a curriculum-based exam. Unfortunately, states were never held accountable to be in compliance with the 1994 law.
MYTH: NCLB requires a national standardized test.
FACT: The law actually forbids a national test, and statesare free to choose the testing standards that best fit their students' needs.
MYTH: The federal government has created unrealistic demands on the requirements teachers must meet before becoming highly qualified.
FACT: In order to be recognized as a highly qualified teacher, the instructor must be certified, have a bachelor's degree, and have demonstrated knowledge in the teacher's subject area. Every state already mandates the first two requirements, and states have the freedom to find the best way to determine if a teacher has the subject-specific mastery.
MYTH: Schools in need of improvement will lose federal funding.
FACT: To the contrary, there are no financial penalties for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress. In fact, states must set aside a portion of their Title I funds for use to provide special assistance to schools in need of improvement.
MYTH: NCLB reduces local control of schools.
FACT: The federal law expands local control of schools. After almost four decades of federal government involvement with stagnant academic results, federal education spending will finally be tied to student achievement and school success. States and individual school districts can now transfer up to 50% of certain federal formula grant funds to any one Title I program without separate approval.
If you'd like additional details on the ALEC analysis of NCLB, please send me an email.
Ass't. Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Ray Simon accompanied Congressman Roy Blunt to a second meeting held May 26 at the Tim Reynolds Media Center in Joplin, this time with fewer local school superintendents in attendance. Their audience seemed to have the same concerns regarding the No Child Left Behind law that were proposed during an initial meeting a few months prior. Although both continued to solicit ways to make the law have common sense, neither Simon nor Blunt could comment specifically regarding whether the initial concerns of the school administrators ever were addressed.
In separate statements to the media, R-8 Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jim Simpson spoke of how NCLB would impact on the local community. In reference to West Central School on West Seventh Street with its flip-flopping proficiency that currently does not meet NCLB standards, Simpson said that based on the law parents might be given the right to transfer their children to a better performing school within the district. Either R-8 would have to concentrate Title I funding on transportation for their children or else it would be forced to devote large sums of money for remedial programs for a disproportionately small amount of students.
Whether parents would capitalize on the law allowing them to transfer their children or whether they would prefer keeping their children in their neighborhood school remains a question. In any event the transient nature of the school population and the unfathomable challenges of educating its lower achievers play significant roles in why the school has not met NCLB standards. The law does not take into account that some students might be uneducatable, based on federally mandated guidelines, no matter how much attention they receive. It encourages a transfer of students that not only could be psychologically devastating to them but also might alter the proficiency of the schools forced to accept their enrollment.
Due to the efforts of Senator Gary Nodler, Missouri passed legislation re-defining its educational standards in order to create a more level playing field with the 49 other states governed by NCLB. How incredible that Missouri was forced to bring its educational standards down to the level of--let's say, Arkansas, the home state, by the way, of Simon. (Photo by Vince Rosati)