Much discussion out there in the media and policy-wonk worlds surrounding No Child Left Behind’s five-year anniversary, with lots of speculation on the law’s reauthorization scheduled to begin this year. Check out the first item in this week’s issue of NSBA’s Legal Clips. For that matter, just plug “No Child Left Behind” into your favorite Internet search engine, like Google News, and look at the results.
Although various bills amending NCLB were introduced by Republicans and Democrats in the last Congress, lawmakers did nothing to fix the law. Now the new 110th Congress can distinguish itself by taking some real actions to improve the law.
It’s good news that both the current Congress and the Bush administration want to start reauthorization this year. For the sake of its own credibility, NCLB simply cannot continue to use its flawed accountability framework to rate schools and school districts based on comparing the performance of different groups of students from year to year and imposing inappropriate assessments on students with language and special needs challenges. See here and here. NSBA has recommended 40 provisions to improve the law, mostly focusing on the Adequate Yearly Progress framework. These recommendations were included in the bill introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in June 2006. Young is committed to re-introducing the bill in the new Congress.
In recent months, several provisions NSBA supports have also picked up steam in discussions. These include using growth models to hold schools accountable (see this), and allowing states to rate schools under a multi-tier AYP system by possibly adding a provisional AYP category.
However, other suggestions, such as adding new subject areas to the AYP framework and adding more annual testing in high school, also have surfaced. Thoughtful mulling by social studies advocates here, and Ed Week coverage of a big pow-wow on this issue, here. The civic mission of public schools is fundamental, of course, and historian David McCullough made an impassioned plea at NSBA’s 2006 Annual Conference for school boards not to allow history to be marginalized.
The problem is that when it comes to NCLB, more is not necessarily better. As BoardBuzz has said before, the many sincere community groups who rightly perceive that their agendas for public schools are taking a back seat to NCLB pressures often have an initial tendency to want to pile their own causes on, too. But, as they’re likely to discover once they start delving into the act, we cannot improve the law just by piling more layers onto it. Instead, we must focus on improving NCLB’s accountability framework first and foremost. Get that part (and of course, the funding) right, and then think about any possible additions.
Meanwhile, McCullough had a good suggestion: If the priority is reading (and one can make a strong case for this), then make sure the reading includes history. Instead of dreaming up more legal mandates for schools, curriculum advocates might accomplish much more by putting their energies into developing strategies to help schools use their favorite subjects as effective means to achieve current academic goals.