When Congress returns in September, it will begin reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
In 2001, President George Bush signed NCLB in an attempt to ensure that every child in America has the opportunity to receive a quality education. While President Bush’s goal may have been admirable, he forgot an important lesson from his gubernatorial days — mandating a national solution for education is a massive federal intrusion and a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully, reauthorizing NCLB will not be as easy as it was in 2001. The political climate has changed considerably from when the bill first sailed through Congress six years ago.
Liberal Democrats like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) argue that NCLB needs more money to allow individual states to develop more efficient testing plans and to devote additional funds and attention to low scoring students without abandoning those who already score satisfactory marks. Conservatives, who were practically mute when NCLB was first implemented, are finally decrying the expanded federal role in education.
Ranking House Education and Labor Member Buck McKeon (R-California) says, “Changes to NCLB that weaken accountability, flexibility, and parental choice — will be met with strong opposition from House Republicans and are likely to be a fatal blow to the reauthorization process.” As this issue becomes a focal point, it is crucial that Members of Congress and President Bush do not compound the problems of NCLB.
NCLB has become a bureaucratic nightmare, expanding spending for specific programs along with the requisite red tape. Burdensome reporting has become the norm for both teachers and administrators under NCLB. In fact, according to the Heritage Foundation, teachers and administrators have logged an additional 6 million hours of paperwork, which takes them away from their job of educating our children.
NCLB testing policies have also been detrimental. NCLB requires states to test students annually and to demonstrate progress toward a national proficiency goal by 2014. Since schools cannot be seen to fail, this requirement has created a strong incentive for states to lower their standards so that more students pass. According to the Heritage Foundation, this “race to the bottom” threatens to eliminate accountability and academic transparency in American schools and thus deny parents, educators and policymakers basic information about student performance. Congress needs to allow states to opt out of NCLB and establish state proficiency standards. A one-size-fits-all federal approach to national testing hampers local school districts and hurts American students.
As part of NCLB reauthorization, Congress may attempt to create integrated systems of education in which all levels coordinate, communicate and educate as one. These efforts are most commonly named K-16, P-16 and P-20. The goal is to create a cohesive system of education from early childhood through college. While it is important to ensure that our students are prepared to enter college or the workforce, this integrated system of education may ultimately erode parents’ ability to choose what type of education their children receive. If a national curriculum (K-16, P-16 and P-20) is established, home schools and private schools (including religious schools) will have to teach what is mandated or their students may be unable to attend the college of their choice.
Reauthorizing NCLB without addressing its major flaws will not improve our schools. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) introduced the A-Plus Act to remedy the problems created by NCLB. A-Plus provides schools with greater flexibility to create their own education programs to best suit their individual needs. It moves the educational decision-making from Washington, D.C., to the states and localities. This ensures that the decisions made are the best ones for the students.
Pray: That Congress and the President can work together to fix the problems created by NCLB and that bipartisanship does not entail complete acquiescence by President Bush. Pray that parents and localities will be given more control over education.
Action: Call your Representative (202-225-3121) and Senators (202-224-3121) and urge them to oppose a national curriculum (K-16, P-16 and P-20) and national testing through NCLB. Ask them to eliminate NCLB’s burdensome reporting requirements. Also ask them to provide parents, schools and states with more flexibility and to reward performance.