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Even Education Trust find NCLB Not Meeting the Grade

We have neglected our own affairs. Our education is inadequate....

Walter Lippman, Conversations (1965)

The timing was awful. Not that President Bush could have known. It's just that what he said on Sept. 14 was spoken the day after U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd had addressed the same topic and two weeks after one of the program's big supporters gave it a grade of "needs improvement" and blamed the administration. Mr. Bush tried to play catch up on Sept. 16 but did himself no good. The topic was education.

Mr. Bush's Sept. 14 radio address was devoted in large part to trumpeting the success of his "No Child Left Behind Act," the hallmark of his administration's attempt to improve student achievement in the United States. He said that the act is "raising standards for student achievement, giving parents more choices, requiring more accountability from school and funding education at record levels." In the same address he said that his proposed budget for next year would increase education payments by $11.1 billion to $53.1 billion.

On Sept. 16, he went to Nashville, Tenn., where he spoke at Kirkpatrick Elementary School. He defended the funding he requested, saying it was adequate to give extra help to schools unable to meet the standards imposed by the act. It would have all been terribly moving but for one thing: His comments followed those made on the Senate floor by the thoughtful and intelligent Byrd of West Virginia.

Sen. Byrd discussed "No Child Left Behind" and the funding being sought by the administration, comparing it to funds Mr. Bush wants to spend on Iraq: "It is equally ironic that the administration is seeking an estimated $60 billion to $70 billion in additional funding for Iraq from the American taxpayers at a time when the Senate is debating adding a fraction of that amount to an appropriations bill to provide critical funding ... for school children in poor school districts."

Sen. Byrd observed that earlier in the week he had unsuccessfully sought to add $6.1 billion for education programs needed to fund the money Congress authorized for fiscal year 2004 in the act. He observed that his colleagues and Mr. Bush think enough funding being provided for education and any additional amount would unfairly burden the burgeoning deficit. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who supported Mr. Bush when the law was first passed, said $53.1 billion was an insignificant increase of $26 million over the preceding year. Senators Kennedy and Byrd were not the only ones concerned about the administration's attitude toward education.

On Sept. 3 it was reported that the Education Trust, a non-profit group based in Washington that helped write "No Child Left Behind" had given the Education Department under the leadership of Secretary of Education Rod Paige a score of "Needs Improvement" for failing to raise the quality of classroom teachers, as required by the law. Ross Weiner, director of the trust, said that the department lacked leadership. He said the department was permitting schools to avoid making information public that, if public, would disclose that the wealthiest schools have the best-prepared teachers, something not all together surprising given this administration's inclination to help the rich, who, being even richer, will reach down and help out the poor.

Mr. Weiner blamed the department for failing to take advantage of the law's provisions to bring better-qualified teachers into classrooms with large numbers of disadvantaged children. The press release accompanying the report said: "When it comes to closing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, good teaching matters most. But the Department of Education has fallen short on providing adequate focus on the issue."

The report itself says that: "For the past two years, the Department has acted as if it believed accountability, alone, will bring about better achievement. The teacher quality provisions of NCLB have been at various times ignored, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. There is too little focus on these important issues and widespread confusion about what they mean. As a result, NCLB is seen by many as an attempt to arbitrarily punish experienced teachers, instead of what it actually is a law that embraces the central importance of those teachers in helping students learn."

Mr. Weiner observes that whereas Title II of the act provides almost $3 billion a year to focus on teacher quality, the federal government has been derelict in ensuring that this money benefits the teachers and schools most in need. According to a recent Government Accounting Office report, many states have not even developed the data systems they need to be able to appropriately target these funds. "Without clear leadership from the Department, many of the teacher quality provisions in the law simply aren't being addressed," Mr. Wiener concluded.

Reacting to the report, Dr. Paige responded the same way he responded when it was disclosed that instead of being a model for a great school district, the Houston school district he led was a model of how clever administrators could lie about their accomplishments. Addressing the report, Dr. Paige said that the department was "steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that every child is afforded quality instruction from highly qualified teachers."

His shortcomings did not trouble him. They don't trouble the president either. They only trouble parents, teachers and students.

— Christopher Brauchli
Standards and testing fine, but not enough
Boulder Daily Camera


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