Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wonkitorial: NCLB Not A Go-Go

Opponents of the No Child Left Behind Act aren't going to be too happy about this one:
Lawmakers said Thursday they were willing to make the No Child Left Behind law more flexible, but warned there won't be a lot of extra federal money to help pay for it.

And don't expect the law to go away, members of the House Education & the Workforce Committee said as they kicked off a series of hearings in preparation for renewing the sweeping education law next year.

Since it was passed in 2001, teachers, parents and state education officials have complained about various aspects of the law, which requires schools to meet goals for student performance or face a variety of penalties.

Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, a California Republican who chairs the House committee said he's willing to listen to the complaints, but he's more interested in how to solve any problems.

"I'd like to hear the proposed solutions," McKeon said in an interview.

Under the law, all children must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Some educators have complained that the law's emphasis on math and reading has detracted from other subjects.

Thursday's hearing featured examples of how schools can offer broad curriculums in science, physical education and the arts, while still meeting the law's requirements on reading and math.

Garrett Lydie, a physical education teacher from Laurel, Delaware, explained how he integrated math and reading into his classes, having elementary school students spell words and solve math problems while climbing a wall.

"During many of our physical activities, students apply the concepts they are learning in areas such as math, science, writing, reading and social studies to achieve a goal," said Lydie, the 2006 teacher of the year in Delaware.

But the issue of money kept creeping into the discussion.

"Without adequate and stable funding ... I can't get the needs met," Mickey Garrison, an elementary school principal from Roseburg, Oregon, told the committee.

Democrats have long complained that the law has not been fully funded, while Republicans argue that federal spending on education has increased significantly since the law was passed.

"I think that when you talk to people, no matter what we give them, it's not enough," McKeon said. "We have backed this up with resources and we will push for more resources. But it's not all about resources."

Representative George Miller of California, the education committee's top Democrat, said funding will be a critical issue as Congress works to renew the law.

"Where is education on the priority list of this government?" Miller asked.

The House narrowly passed a 2007 budget early Thursday that calls for cutting federal spending on education by more than $5 billion, about 7 percent.

McKeon said he has no specific plans for changing the law's requirements. "I don't have any ax to grind, other than to improve the law," he said.

Both McKeon and Miller said the committee plans to review the entire law before reauthorizing it, hearing from critics and supporters alike.

However, Miller said, it would be a waste of time for critics to argue that the law should be scrapped.

"I don't think the basic principles of the act are going to go away," Miller said.

Representative Michael Castle, R-Delaware, agreed, saying, "One thing is for sure: It's here to stay."
From a politician's point of view, NCLB is the perfect law.

What this law does is promise parents voters that their children will be at grade-level in reading and math, no matter how little (or how much) effort that both parent and child put into the educational process.

And if, for whatever reason, the child doesn't achieve the level of federally mandated proficiency, the law places total responsibility on public school educators. Absolutely none of the responsibility falls on the parent voter, no matter how negligent that they may have been in their parental responsibilities.

We Americans love a "free lunch," and what could be better from a politician's point of view than to promise parents that their children will achieve academic mastery and then provide them with a convenient scapegoat (educators) if and when things go wrong?

We strongly feel that no matter which political party is in power, be they Democrats or Republicans, the No Child Left Behind Act will be left essentially intact. The law is simply too appealing from the point of view of both politicians and parents voters.

Sadly, we who are serving children in the classroom are going to have to get used to the notion that we, and we alone, will be held accountable for getting 100% of American children to grade-level proficiency without having the necessary disciplinary and instructional tools that we need in order to have a sporting chance of reaching NCLB's objectives.

For example: isn't it strange that the Internal Revenue Service can compel my attendance at a conference at a given time and place in order to "discuss" my tax return, but I, as a teacher, cannot require that a parent come to the school (or even answer the telephone) in order to discuss their child's academic needs?

In fact, here in California, parents need only make sure that their children attend school somewhat regularly and arrive, more or less, on time. They need not do anything else.

We educators cannot even require students to bring paper and pencil.

Nor can we require students to report to a teacher's room for after-school help or disciplinary detention.

If either the State of California or the Federal Government were serious about not leaving any child behind, they would give us classroom teachers and site administrators the tools that we need in order to get the job done.
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