Thursday, January 17, 2008

No Child Left Behind is ineffective, book says

Julia Erlandson | The Daily Bruin
Thursday, January 17, 2008

No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration’s landmark legislation aimed at improving education, has done little to increase achievement or equalize education, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA concludes in a new book.

The Civil Rights Project, which relocated from Harvard University to UCLA last year, works on civil rights issues including equality in education.

Several researchers associated with the project recently released a book addressing accountability and school reform within the context of No Child Left Behind.

“What we basically found is that the law has been administered poorly,” said Gary Orfield, UCLA professor of education and a contributor to the book.

No Child Left Behind requires all students in elementary and secondary schools to achieve “proficiency” on English and math standardized tests by 2013. In the meantime, schools must meet yearly improvement targets toward that goal.

Schools that do not meet those targets can be penalized by losing federal funding or, in extreme cases, being taken over by the federal government.

Orfield said these requirements put undue burdens on low-performing schools, which often have higher populations of underrepresented minority students.

“Minority schools have been disproportionately punished,” he said. “Under NCLB, schools that are falling behind have to make even more progress than (higher-performing schools) because they have to meet the same targets in 2013.”

Gail Sunderman,checked senior research associate with the Civil Rights Project and editor of the new book, said the book focuses on how the law holds schools and states accountable and how effective it is in reforming schools.

In general, Sunderman said, researchers found that No Child Left Behind is largely ineffective in accomplishing either goal.

She noted that more research needs to be conducted on assessment and accountability methods and that the law’s proficiency targets are not necessarily realistic.

Further, No Child Left Behind strains states beyond their actual abilities to improve schools, she said.

“NCLB is not real compatible with what we know about school reform,” she said. “States have the capacity to intervene in about 2 to 4 percent of schools in the state, which is a lot lower than the 10 to 30 percent that are identified as failing under the law.”

But Sunderman said researchers wanted to do more than just criticize the law.

“One of the ideas of the book is not just to comment on No Child Left Behind and what the issues were, but also to focus on where do we go from here,” she said, adding that this is especially important this year since the law may come up for reauthorization.

The Civil Rights Project will send copies of the book to legislators in hopes of inspiring changes to the law, Sunderman said.

Still, researchers said they are not especially optimistic about the law’s reauthorization prospects, at least in the near future.

Orfield said although the Senate has begun making efforts to revise the law, the Bush administration’s stated opposition to major changes could stall progress.

“There really isn’t a good discussion going on between the White House and Congress,” he said. “We need to have diplomatic relations between the White House and (educators).”

Some lawmakers have expressed frustration over the law’s reauthorization process.

Rep. George Miller, D-Contra Costa County,checked is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and recently said in a statement that efforts to improve No Child Left Behind have been met with resistance.

“(President Bush) has refused to take part in any meaningful negotiations and has vetoed a much-needed increase in education funding,” Miller said in the statement. “I am committed to making accountability in our schools fair and flexible, and hope that President Bush will finally join this effort by supporting both the reforms and the funding needed.”

Orfield said he believes it is more likely that nothing will happen until after the presidential election.

Though the new book largely criticizes No Child Left Behind, Orfield said he believes parts of the law should remain intact.

He praised the requirement that every classroom teacher be “highly qualified” and that states release testing data broken down by ethnic subgroup.

“Civil rights activists want to keep the data collection,” he said, noting that this can help reveal inequality. “The law is hundreds of pages long – there are a lot of good ideas in it.”

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