No Child law's authors work on a revision
Respond to complaints
By Susan Milligan, Boston Globe | July 16, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The landmark No Child Left Behind law, which has drawnimpassioned criticism from educators and parents unhappy with itsstringent requirements for public schools to raise students' testscores, is being rewritten on Capitol Hill to fix what the bill'sauthors now acknowledge are flaws.
Lawmakers say they will not abandon the basic tenets of thelegislation, which requires yearly testing of elementary and somesecondary school students, and holds schools and districts accountablefor poor test scores.
But after five years of complaints -- followed by sit-downs inrecent months with teachers, administrators, and civil rights leaders-- Congress and the Bush administration are ready to change the wayschools and students are rated.
They say the changes will help states and school districts identifymore clearly which students need extra help, while avoiding labelingentire schools as failing because they have students who are harder toteach, such as those with learning disabilities or limited Englishskills.
The original authors of the bill, Senator Edward M. Kennedy andRepresentative George Miller, are looking at a slew of changes,including expanding the way "adequate yearly progress" is calculated,so schools that barely miss the testing thresholds are not put in thesame failing category as schools with across-the-board learningproblems.
Other proposals include giving schools more time to improve testscores before schools are forced to take corrective action.
"Everything's up for review," said Miller , Democrat of Californiaand chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "I've alwayssaid I was the proud co author of No Child Left Behind. . . . Now, I'mdetermined to be the proud author of a No Child Left Behind that works."
Kennedy, who worked closely with President Bush in writing the law,has for years said the much-reviled measure would work if theadministration provided the money schools need to develop good testsand help struggling students, especially those in poorer schooldistricts.
But the Massachusetts Democrat said in a Globe interview that he nowbelieves the law itself must be changed as well. Many of thepresidential candidates in both parties have called for changes in thelaw, and several -- including Democratic Senators Chris Dodd ofConnecticut, Hillary Clinton of New York, and Barack Obama of Illinois-- have introduced legislation.
"We still have to have the concept of accountability," said Kennedy,who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, andPensions. But "what we need to do is get away from labeling, get awayfrom the punitive aspects, and give help and assistance to the neediestschools.
We're now on a pathway to make some sense on this."
Miller and Kennedy said they hope to begin work this month onwriting the revised version of No Child Left Behind. The law is up forreauthorization this year, which means Congress must vote on whether toextend it.
Miller said he was pessimistic only six weeks ago that he couldrally his Democratic colleagues to extend the controversial law, buthas recently convinced fellow lawmakers that the law can work well ifit is rewritten to address the complaints from constituents.
The law requires yearly testing in math and reading for students ingrades 3 through 8; students are also tested once in high school togauge their academic progress. Schools can be labeled as in need ofimprovement -- and eventually, as a failing school -- if students'scores do not meet what the law calls "adequate yearly progress."
The law provides for additional help for students needingassistance, and parents can also send their children to another publicschool if a school is deemed unsuccessful. In extreme cases, a schoolcan be closed for poor performance.
Educators have complained mightily about the law, saying the testingrules do not fully measure whether a student is learning. Schooladministrators say they are being wrongly punished for lower testscores from students with learning difficulties, and some parents areunhappy with schools' decisions to curtail art and music education tofocus on meeting testing thresholds in math and reading.
Funding, too, is a major complaint from both educators andcongressional Democrats, who say that No Child Left Behind has neverbeen given all the money authorized in the law by Congress. The Bushadministration said that funding for elementary and secondary schoolshas increased each year since Bush took office, often by more than itdid under President Bill Clinton -- a fact Kennedy acknowledges.
But states are still not getting the money they need to developappropriate tests and provide the extra help students need to make thetest-score improvements demanded in the law, Kennedy said.
Nonetheless, complaints from teachers have been so strong that somesay it is unclear whether the changes under consideration will appeaseeducators, and some political leaders, unhappy with No Child LeftBehind.
While teachers say they share the goals of providing a high-qualityeducation to all children, regardless of race, economic background, ordisability, many fear that the rules might undermine public educationand send more students fleeing into private schools.
"The Bush administration was setting up the public schools to fail,and to undermine public confidence" in them, said Kevin Fleming , ateacher at Winnacunnet High School in Exeter, N.H.
At a conference late last month for the National EducationAssociation, candidates for president slammed the law, saying thetesting requirements force educators to "teach to the test" and stiflecreativity in the classroom.
Further, the testing structure -- which holds schools accountablefor the progress of an entire class, instead of individual students --is unrealistic, said NEA president Reg Weaver. "Not all children learnat the same rate, at the same speed," Weaver said in an interview.
Dodd is author of the most sweeping package on Capitol Hill tooverhaul No Child Left Behind. Dodd annoyed some of his colleagues whenhe introduced his proposal several years ago, when the education lawwas still new. He is now drawing support for some of the alterationshe's seeking. They include easing certification requirements forteachers and giving schools more ways to show they are making studentsbetter at math and reading.
"Test scores obviously have value, but if it's the only thing you'redoing, you're not making a coherent and substantial judgment of how anindividual is doing or how a school is doing," Dodd said in aninterview.
More than 30 pieces of legislation to alter No Child Left Behindhave been introduced on Capitol Hill, by the NEA's count -- some ofthem from Republicans.
enators Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Richard Burr of NorthCarolina -- both Republicans -- introduced legislation last week aimedat keeping the accountability and testing concepts while giving moreleeway to schools. For example, the bill would give schools more timeto achieve test standards among children just learning English, andtreat schools with small populations of low-achieving students lessharshly than those with widespread problems.
The Bush administration is also ready to make some changes in thelaw.
The Department of Education has launched a limited program allowingseveral states to use different ways of calculating a school's progressin boosting test scores."We shifted our national education dialogue from how much we arespending to how much children are learning," Education SecretaryMargaret Spellings said in a statement. "Today, we need a newconversation about how to strengthen and improve this law."
Changes under consideration
July 16, 2007
Avoid labeling entire schools as failing because they havestudents who are harder to teach, such as those with learningdisabilities or limited English skills .
Give schools more time to bring up test scores before theyare forced to take corrective action.
Ease certification requirements for teachers.
Give schools more options for showing they are makingstudents better at math and reading.
Treat schools less harshly if they have small populations oflow-achieving students compared with those with widespread problems.
Allow different ways of calculating a school's progress inbringing up test scores in select locations.