Time to Rewrite No Child Left Behind!

Dear Commons Community,

It appears that with the new Congress, there is interest among Republicans, Democrats, and President Obama’s Department of Education to rewrite the deeply-flawed No Child Left Behind Law that has governed K-12 education for the past decade. It is likely that the onerous standardized testing imposed by NCLB will be tempered if not eliminated, there will be more appropriate funding, and the states will have more leeway in setting standards. The Huffington Post provides a good recap on some of the thinking that is presently going on in Washington, D.C.

“Congress is currently revving up yet another attempt to rewrite the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, and Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) said Tuesday that she sees putting her stamp on the sweeping education legislation as “another big step forward, putting the ideals of our nation into action.”

Murray addressed President Barack Obama in her speech, telling him that the law “is badly broken.”

No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush’s rebranding of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, required that students in America’s public schools be tested in math and reading in certain grades, and punished schools based on those scores. Since then, it has earned a reputation from nearly everyone for being too crude in its metrics, because it relies on raw test scores as opposed to student growth.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that after years of working around Congress to get states out of the law by issuing waivers, the Obama administration is ready to go back to the legislative drawing board.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. secretary of education who now chairs the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, have floated the idea of doing away with standardized testing entirely. Duncan said Monday that an overhaul would place limits on testing and test preparation but still require it, because “parents and teachers and students have both the right and the absolute need to know how much progress all students are making each year.”

Murray articulated a similar position on testing in an interview earlier this week. “We have to fix the redundant and unnecessary testing within the system broadly,” she told The Huffington Post.

But, she said in her speech, “That doesn’t mean we should roll back standards or accountability.” She further defended the need for some degree of standardized testing by invoking a reason more often used on the right: taxpayer money.

“It would be irresponsible to ask taxpayers to spend billions of dollars on education without knowing if it’s making a difference in our students’ lives,” she said.

Alexander also addressed NCLB on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The law has become unworkable. States are struggling. As a result, we need to act,” he said. “That will be the first thing we need to do. My hope would be that we would finish our working in the first few months of this year.”

Alexander said he has already distributed a “chairman’s working draft” of new NCLB legislation to committee members, “because you have to have some place to start.” He said he plans to meet every day with committee members for this week and the next, solicit feedback and move from there.

“The plan that I am suggesting here is to set realistic goals, keep the best portions of No Child Left Behind, and restore to states and communities the responsibility to decide whether schools or teachers are succeeding or failing,” Alexander said of his draft.

Murray said that she wants to rewrite the NCLB to provide more resources for the neediest schools and expand access to early childhood education. Duncan has expressed similar goals.

Part of the problem with the law is that it “required states to set high standards for schools — but it didn’t give them the resources they needed to meet those achievement goals,” she said. “In effect, this law set up our schools for failure.”

It would be a miracle for public education to get out from under the misguided burden of NCLB.  Standardized testing should be curtailed and assessments developed at the state and local levels to make sure that standards are being met.  Further funding for public education particularly in our poorer school districts is also a must.



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