There's a second bitter battle, one that directly touches more U.S. families than almost any other issue: reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which expires on September 30, 2007.
Political jockeying (by Education Secretary and Bush buddy Margaret Spellings) and legislative tinkering (by Rep. George Miller, Chair of the House Education & Labor Committee) to revise the Bush administration's complex education reform program started six months ago, and shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
And the most confusing aspect of pending reauthorization of NCLB continues to be deciphering who supports it, and who doesn't. Sides for this battles don't fall neatly along the Democrat-Republican partisan divide:
- Many Congressional Republicans are itching to kill NCLB... the sooner, the better.
- Yet this Republican administration is the prime cheerleader for the program. (Is it partly because NCLB has loopholes allowing Bush cronies to also profit from this federal program?)
- Many Democrats, including Ted Kennedy and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, strongly support the basic tenets of NCLB, but are advocating for major program and testing changes.
- Yet another Democratic frontrunner for 2008, Barack Obama, angrily dubs NCLB "one of the emptiest slogans in the history of politics." (See Obama Speaks Out on Education, No Child Left Behind.)
Latest News on the Battle over NCLB Legislation
In January 2007, the Secretary Spellings published a report detailing controversial changes to NCLB that the administration wants, including more and more rigorous testing, tougher high school curriculum, and the use of federal funds to pay for private and religious schools (which are not subject to NCLB).
In late August, House Education Chairman Miller (D-CA) and his Republican counterpart, Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), publicly released the House Education Committee draft of revised NCLB legislation, designed to "soften" education reforms in order to attract sufficient Congressional support for passage.
Major changes include:
- Easing mandatory testing requirements for special needs and disabled students.
- Extension of English-based testing of non-English speaking students from from 2-3 years to up to 7 years, on a case-by-case basis.
- Inclusion of more data than only math and reading test scores when evaluating schools.
- Better distribution of qualified, experienced teachers throughout each school district.
- Establishment of targets to improve high school graduation rates.
- Raising the bar for requiring schools to use their federal funds to provide outside tutoring by "approved" for-profit companies.
Secretary Spellings... of course... objects to these revisions to the administration's plans for NCLB.
Bush Administration Objections to the House Draft of NCLB
Among her most vociferous objections is the modest scaling back for mandated third-party tutoring of public school students. Decried Spellings recently, "These kids who are eligible for service today suddenly would not have help."
Spellings neglected to add that the Bush family, as well as Bush cronies, profit from this provision in the NCLB Act. (See Bush Family Profits from 'No Child' Act, published on Oct 22, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times.) Likewise, the New York Times editorialized about the lack of conflict-of-interest rules within NCLB, in Putting More Profit Before Education.
Margaret Spellings also objects to changes in testing requirements for students with disabilities and English-as-second-language learners, as it "would allow them to be held to lower standards."
In response to this much-criticized hardline position by the administration, one teacher commented at Education Week:
"Some things we can speed up for ELLs but some things we can't. They have to develop. I believe in the basic principles of accountability under NCLB; it was a long time in coming but taking ELA tests after one year in US education in English is very unfair and, like the rest of the law, says that everyone is the same and there can be no variations in individual progress without punishing the school or the district involved. It just doesn't happen that way."
Regarding testing of disabled/special needs students, University of Indiana's educational center concluded in 2006 that, as an unintended consequence of NCLB:
"... the act's narrow assessment criteria creates pressure for schools to reverse inclusion efforts and may contribute to higher drop-out rates among students with disabilities...
"This situation puts pressure on schools to remove special education students from general education classrooms, undoing years of progress toward inclusion in mainstream schooling. "
Status of NCLB in September 2007
As of September 5, Miller and McKeon have collected an astonishing 10,000 comments on their draft revision of NCLB. These two House Education Committee leaders plan for the committee to debate the plan this month, and for it to be submitted for a full House vote within a month thereafter.
Senate Education Committee Chair Ted Kennedy intends to also present NCLB reauthorization for committee debate this month, followed by full Senate debate. "Some education analysts give it a 50-50 chance of passing," reported Washington Dateline on September 6, 2007.
In the meantime, tens of millions of American families, as well as teachers and school administrators, hold vehement views on this hot-potato issue.
Alis Headlam of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education eloquently wrote in the Rutland-Herald of Rutland, Vermont:
"The federal government under NCLB has taken control of curriculum. Schools and teachers no longer have a say in how reading is taught. Tomorrow it will be math and science. The imposition of a simplistic teaching model is detrimental to both teaching and learning, and ignores what good educators know: Students learn in many different ways. Ignoring this is tantamount to child abuse...
"Children are forced to sit through lengthy test preparation that takes away from learning meaningful curriculum and then required to spend hours taking a test that has little to do with real learning. The results of testing become the goal rather than assuring that learning has taken place. Children are labeled as failures based on a limited notion of learning that ignores a wide range of possible successes that cannot be measured through testing...
"We must take the reauthorization seriously. We must let our congressmen know that we support quality education, not federally mandated oppression. We need to give education back to the schools where it belongs."
Yes, indeed, the 2007 Congressional fight over NCLB may be bitter and cruel. And surprising, as well.
It may even be as memorable and hard-fought as that other herculean legislative battle of 2007: the Iraq War.
(Photo taken on June 8, 2008 in New Orleans as Eyshana Webster and other students become the first graduating class from John McDonogh Senior High School since Hurricane Katrina: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
No Child Left Behind Act - Info Center Hub
Indiana University, Nov 15, 2006: Report: No Child Left Behind is out of step with special education
Rutland Herald, September 6, 2007: Put education back in the schools