The events of the last 10 years have been incredibly significant in the shaping of American history: 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Great Recession, the election of Barack Obama, to name a few. One of the most critical of these events occurred on Jan. 8, 2002, with the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act by President Bush.
This 1,100 page law received bipartisan support. Sen. Ted Kennedy was a key voice for its passage. Pretty much on both sides of the political aisle today there is a growing belief that the NCLB law—formerly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—started us down a slippery slope of narrow school-reform policies that have failed miserably. No doubt there have been several seriously bad unintended consequences.
Unfortunately, the partisanship of the health care battle in 2009 took the momentum away from changing the flawed NCLB law. We are now four years from its scheduled reauthorization. The Race To The Top plan initiated by Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and Pres. Obama put us on the path to more misplaced competition. Only 12 states received funding in the first two rounds, a horrendously bad federal distribution of more than $4 billion. Of course, California received nothing, not $1, when we enroll 11 percent of this nation’s children in our schools.
Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice was the keynote speaker at the National School Boards Conference which I attended in San Francisco on Saturday. It was obvious from her comments to the 6,000-plus elected and appointed leaders running America’s schools that she is not a proponent of NCLB.
She said the K-12 public school system has been the foundation of America’s greatness, and that we can’t afford a school system where children receive a quality of education predicated on their zip codes.
“We have a crisis in public education and it is the greatest national security problem,” Rice said. She should know this since she once was Pres. Bush’s National Security Advisor. She said we need a curriculum that is broadly, not narrowly, defined, and graduates who are creative and innovative. NCLB creates a policy morass that is the antithesis to these goals.
Roberta Stanley of the National School Boards Association said the reauthorization outlook for NCLB is bleak for the near future. With some hint of optimism she said there is growing bipartisan support for what educational researchers and professors of education at colleges of education have been saying for years:
• Overemphasis on high stakes testing is not good for teaching and learning
• New legislation must be comprehensive and funded
• Assessments must be meaningful
• Standards must be rigorous
• Teacher quality still needs to be the focus
• NCLB is unhealthy and unproductive top down approach
• Create constructive and researched-based best practices
• Assessments on-line
• Multiple measures of assessment
• Teachers should no longer be demonized
Ms. Stanley said by September 2011 82 percent of schools will not reach the federal requirement for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measure, placing more and more of America’s schools in Program Improvement sanctions. Appearing before Chairman John Kline’s (R-MN) House Education and Workforce Committee on March 9th Secretary Duncan said the new ESEA/NCLB law must strike a balance between accountability and flexibility, and be tight on goals and loose on means. He said the old law is broken and in desperate need of repair.
Roberta Stanley suggested that Rep. John Kline’s Education and Workforce Committee and Sen. Tom Harkin’s U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions are the best hope for coming together on new language and practices for public schools in America. Ms. Stanley inferred that Duncan and Obama have been very interested in education, but somewhat on the wrong track.
It is high time for Pres. Obama to give voice to the proposals being discussed in Congress so the American people and the millions of educators can share their opinion before another flawed law is put into place. There must be a sense of urgency to the discussions.
My hope for new NCLB/ESEA language to come out of congress by June 30, 2011 has been dashed by Stanley. She implored the Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives to come to consensus on the next iteration of ESEA by the end of the year. Since 2012 is an election year it will be too late to get bipartisan support on new legislation.
Children do not have a political party and are the greatest hope for our progress as a nation into the future. Roberta Stanley said, “the new law must be fair, reliable and achievable.” All things NCLB was not.
We can do away with the most significant national security threat of our time if we make certain as a nation all children receive an equally robust and broad education, not narrowly defined by bubble testing.