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Archive for Sunday, November 2, 2003

Too much testing, not enough funding

No Child Left Behind: Will it work?

November 2, 2003

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— When the Bush team rolled out its 2000 election campaign plan, education was front and center. Post-election, however, what educators and students got was a long list of questions and unfunded mandates in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act.

We all agree on the need for higher standards and accountability, but the path of high-stakes testing is a road filled with pitfalls. Tests can be one useful tool, but they can't be the only measure.

A wider range of assessments of students' performance must be used to measure student progress accurately. Teaching to the test has become the reality for too many teachers depriving students of a well-rounded education and encouraging independent thought and analysis. The penalties for failure under NCLB include sending children to other schools, teachers being fired and school districts being disbanded or further under-funded. Instead of encouraging excellence and innovation, NCLB stifles it.

Among the more damaging aspects of NCLB are the resources -- or lack thereof -- provided for implementation. While the Bush administration finds ample funds for tax-cuts for the wealthy and an unjustified and unjustifiable war, it is only paying lip service to its professed top priority -- education.

The U.S. Department of Education contends that education funding is at a historic high. While that may be true technically, actual funding levels in real dollars continue to fall drastically and do not take into account the new mandates school districts face under NCLB.

In fact, funding for NCLB is $8 billion short of the funding levels prescribed. It gets worse though: President Bush recently asked Congress to cut funding for NCLB in the 2004 federal budget by an additional $300 million. That means that the burden for implementing NCLB will ultimately fall on the cash-strapped states and localities.

Another problem with NCLB is the lack of resources for students eligible to transfer out of a failing school. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students must be allowed to transfer to new schools regardless of available space and current class sizes. The burden of taking on more students has created massive overcrowding in some school districts. Schools also may be asked to take on new students without any additional funding to provide for their education.

While all agree that no child should be left behind, NCLB is a set up for failure. Requiring every child to pass the state assessments by 2014, combined with the inadequate funding provided for implementation, increases the pressure on local districts to create miracles out of nothing. Instead of providing adequate support for needy schools, the Bush administration is consigning them to the trash heap and piling an almost insurmountable burden on others who, inevitably, will fail as well. The result will be every child left behind.

The No Child Left Behind Act is relatively new: communities are still struggling to understand its specifics and its costs to them. Yet, if the Bush administration were to be held to the same standards it imposes on local governments and school districts, it would receive a "failing" grade.




Amy F. Isaacs is the national director of Americans for Democratic Action, www.adaction.org.

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