Thursday, April 3, 2008

THE ISSUES THAT MAKE NO CHILD LAW SO CONTROVERSIAL

JOAN INDIANA RIGDON, WASHINGTON LAWYER - According to its critics, NCLB has actually lowered education standards by forcing schools to obsess over testing while diverting some of their own funds-as well as huge chunks of classroom time-away from their own educational goals to do that testing.

Indeed, one thing we know from all the testing that is required is that the nation's students aren't making much progress under NCLB. Math scores, for instance, have risen under NCLB, but at a slower rate than they did before the law took effect. Reading scores have barely budged.

There's been book-cooking, too: Afraid of having their schools tagged as failures, which could mean large-scale staff replacement, or being forced to cede a school to private management, many states have assured themselves of improved results by dumbing down their assessment tests or lowering the definition of a passing grade. Technically, that's allowed, since NCLB requires students to be "proficient" but doesn't say what that means. . .

While many of NCLB's original backers have distanced themselves from the bill, even its chief architects, Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy and California Democrat Rep. George Miller, are starting to criticize it. "Up until at least spring of last year, they were very resistant to legislative changes to the law and generally defenders of the law. They were critical of funding and critical of how the Bush administration was implementing the law, but they were not calling for a change to the statute itself," says the NEA's Packer. "This year they have significantly changed their tune and their tone."

Last summer, Miller declared the law "not fair," "not flexible," and "not funded." Last month, in a Washington Post op-ed on the eve of NCLB's sixth anniversary, Senator Kennedy ticked off some of its accomplishments, but then proceeded to roundly criticize it, writing that "its one-size-fits-all approach encourages 'teaching to the test' and discourages innovation in the classroom."

The National Conference of State Legislatures, which has long criticized NCLB, believes the law is hopelessly convoluted. Representative Miller's draft revision numbered 600 pages, compared to approximately 1,100 for the original. Says David Shreve, the NCSL's federal affairs counsel: "It's a terrible irony that you take 600 pages of amendments to fix 1,100 pages of messed up public policy, as if that's going to simplify and clarify it."

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