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Union: It's time to fix No Child Left Behind law

Ohanian Comment: As I keep saying, standards-based accountability sounds high-minded but it's rotten at the core. See One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards. Before the AFT tries to fix NCLB, they should try fixing their own Standardisto mindset.

The American Federation of Teachers is conducting a national advocacy campaign aimed at improving the No Child Left Behind federal education law.

"The stakes are too high," said AFT President Edward J. McElroy. "We can't wait for the 2007 reauthorization of this law to begin talking about how to fix it. The problems with NCLB go far beyond its deplorable underfunding, and we are serious about getting NCLB right."

The union's "NCLB Let's Get It Right" campaign includes both radio and print ads. Ads will appear in national policy publications. In New York state, ads are running upstate and in New York City .

"The AFT consistently has called for greater accountability and higher standards of learning," said AFT Executive Vice President Antonia Cortese. "That hasn't changed." That consistent philosophy undergirds efforts to fix problems that have emerged with NCLB.

Closing the gap

The AFT and its state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, have long called for standards-based reform as a means of closing the achievement gap. "We believe that to help all children succeed, schools need good curricula, better assessments, professional development for staff, intensive interventions for struggling students and fair accountability," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

Most AFT members polled last year favor fixing NCLB rather than eliminating the federal law. Although it is not fully funded as promised, NCLB does provide some much-needed funding for remediation and other programs. AFT members have expressed considerable frustration with some of NCLB's implementation particularly the law's Adequate Yearly Progress provision. Under AYP, a growing number of schools that have shown encouraging academic progress are being incorrectly labeled as "failing" and are facing sanctions at the very time they could benefit most from additional support.

"We object to the misnamed Adequate Yearly Progress, NCLB's accountability formula, because it is an invalid measure of progress that punishes many schools that are, in fact, making solid academic progress," said Neira. "The entire standards movement is in jeopardy if the shortcomings of NCLB are left unaddressed."

"How we measure things really does matter" are the first words in the AFT's first 60-second commercial broadcasting on radio stations across the country. The advertisement draws comparisons between the NCLB's AYP requirements and yardsticks where an inch is not an inch.

The union is pressing for four major changes to improve NCLB: full funding; eliminating incentives for privatization; proper testing and intervention; and establishing a rational way to measure progress.

In addition to advertising and continued lobbying at the nation's Capitol, the AFT is urging members to write and visit congressional representatives at their local offices. The "NCLB Let's Get It Right" section of AFT's Web site, www.aft.org/topics/nclb/index.htm, links to numerous research reports on NCLB and provides concrete information within four separate areas of the law. NYSUT encourages members to also send letters to Congress calling for full funding and improved implementation of NCLB through the AFT's "Take Action Now" legislative page and NYSUT's Web site, www.nysut.org.

— Sylvia Saunders
New York Teacher


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