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Both chambers of Congress agree No Child Left Behind needs reform. The final cure must maintain accountability while instilling rationality.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Congress passed No Child Left Behind with solid bipartisan support in 2001. Today, a defender of President George W. Bush’s signature education legislation would be hard to find. Both major parties agree NCLB is badly in need of a rewrite. But that’s where the agreement ends.
The House voted 221-207 last week to pass the Student Success Act without a single Democratic vote, and with 12 Republicans voting against it (none of the three Republicans in western Virginia’s delegation among them).
The House bill stands little chance over in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is working on an NCLB revision of its own. And President Obama already has said he will veto the House bill should it somehow survive.
Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under a different guise is an overdue reform of a program that guaranteed school failure: Signed into law in 2002, NCLB defined success as nothing short of 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014.
Perfection could not be attained in 12 years, nor any number of years Washington might have set.
Better student performance is not only possible, though, it is essential for the nation’s continued prosperity.
If a largely do-nothing Congress intends to achieve education reform that will advance that goal, it will have to deliver legislation that alters H.R. 5 in substantive ways.
It would continue to require transparency — states and school districts still would have to report test scores and break down the results by subgroups, such as racial minorities, the poor, students with disabilities. But in seeking to “reduce the federal footprint” in public education, the House voted not to require states to set any goals to close achievement gaps the data reveal.
House Republicans want to turn control of curriculum standards, testing and spending back to the states, but that would badly weaken accountability for access to equal educational opportunity — as no less a conservative bastion than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to understand.
“States must not only disclose disaggregated student achievement data,” the Chamber wrote in an open letter to House members the day before they voted, “but also hold schools accountable for improving student learning and closing student achievement gaps in exchange for federal funding.”
House Democrats further objected to a provision cutting money designated for students most at risk.
No Child has been widely criticized, not least by teachers and parents who complain an overreliance on standardized tests has reduced teaching to rote memorization and continual pre-testing, reducing the profession of teaching to test administering.
H.R. 5 preserves that regimen, though. The Senate should maintain school accountability, with added flexibility that allows good teachers to do their work.
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