Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels

Experts Debate Validity

In a showdown over No Child Left Behind, two education experts give their views. One says it's a do-or-die proposition for American schools, but another says it needs to go. The debate comes in part from the Economic Policy Institute's Web site and began with an article?in The New Republic by Robert Gordon. It also includes an excerpt from?Richard Rothstein's book?Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press, 2004.) www.epi.org

Pro NCLB

Robert Gordon, a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, believes NCLB "is the sort of law liberals once dreamed about." NCLB requires a form of affirmative action where states must show that minority and poor students are proficient. And studies of high-poverty and high achieving schools show high expectations are critical for good results.

In a 2006 excerpt, Gordon says that for decades, the nation took Rothstein's and others' advice and rejected firm learning goals for children. Schools asked and expected little from poor and minority children. So when schools did badly, politicians said, "We understand." He adds that Rothstein unfairly suggests it is "impractical" to ask every child to be proficient in math and reading by any date. "In my view, no human being can know what children could achieve in the distant future if we remain committed to improving our schools."

He adds that Rothstein says "NCLB fosters cynicism in public educators who feel they cannot" fulfill the law. "Whatever cynicism NCLB now fosters in some adults, abandoning meaningful expectations would foster a more destructive cynicism in both adults and children."

The greatest challenges for reauthorization include supporting improved assessment ideally through developing voluntary national standards and encouraging rigorous growth models.

Con NCLB

Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, claims NCLB is so flawed that it's unfixable. Many schools have narrowed achievement gaps. "But because a 'challenging' standard of proficiency, as NCLB requires, is impossible for all students, who come to school bearing the consequences of gross social and economic inequalities that affect their abilities to learn, NCLB invites states to game the system by re-defining low levels of achievement as 'proficient,' by focusing primarily on children just below the proficiency point, and by dropping important subjects from the curriculum to concentrate on test preparation."

But when some schools serving disadvantaged students still fall short of the NCLB goal, they will be labeled as failures. "The inevitable result must be cynicism on the part of educators who know, but are afraid to say publicly, that they cannot, even with Herculean classroom efforts, truly raise the average achievement of disadvantaged children to typical middle-class levels."

Problems for high poverty and minority students range from a lack of health services to housing instability.

Rothstein advocates high-quality early childhood programs, addressing social and economic inequalities, and after-school and summer programs that provide enrichment.

Reaction to President Bush's Teacher Improvements

President Bush wants to improve teacher quality and rigor in American classrooms under the No Child Left Behind law.

The nation's teacher unions-the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association-agree that teacher quality needs to improve but believe Bush's ideas are off.

"There has to be more support for new teachers, induction programs, and improvements for professional development for all teachers," says Joel Packer of the NEA.

Updating school facilities, creating smaller classes by hiring more teachers and providing newer textbooks are important for learning, but not all are federal or money issues, he says. "But the federal government can and should do more on that," he says.

The idea of merit pay, NEA and AFT agree, is tricky because it can be limited by money or subjectivity on the part of administrators. "Second, it does work against collaboration," Packer says. And he explains that one school in a district might have more limited English students over another, making it tougher for some teachers.

Beth Antunez, assistant director in educational issues at AFT, adds that a national program seems to lack parameters or restrictions.

And Packer says that every teacher must be licensed or fully certified to teach, so bringing in math and science professionals won't be necessarily enough to teach math and science well.

And as for more testing in high school, Packer says there isn't enough money to pay for it. But high school does need smaller learning communities, dropout prevention programs and more career and college counselors. "Laying out more tests is not doing anything to improve instruction," Antunez adds.

Bush's Teacher Quality Ideas Include:

Encouraging math and science professionals to work as part-time teachers, with Congress funding it, in an Adjunct Teacher Corps;

Getting Congress to pass a $1.5 billion plan to fund testing early in high school;

Training 70,000 teachers over five years to lead Advanced Placement classes;

Sponsoring a Teacher Incentive Fund that allows states and districts to reward teachers who demonstrate results for students and teach in the neediest schools. A $5.5 million grant recently went to Ohio to reward effective teaching.

Show CT The Money

Despite a federal judge's recent dismissal of much of Connecticut's argument for challenging the No Child Left Behind law, the state is still saying: Show me the money.

"[NCLB] has violated the clear and concise terms of the NCLB Act, as well as the Constitution, by failing to prove the required funding to states," according to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "In moving forward, the key goal of our litigation is to force the federal government to give Connecticut sufficient funding to meet the federal mandates and achieve No Child Left Behind's goals."

Blumenthal also stresses that the lawsuit does not strive to overturn the law or challenge its goals, as the state has already pursued its objectives in improving educational achievement, closing achievement gaps and increasing accountability.

In September, U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz dismissed three of four counts in the state's lawsuit. The court found it did not have jurisdiction over Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' denying the state's request to waive parts of the law. The state already tests grades 4, 6 and 8, and Spellings denied the state's request to keep testing to those grades. She wants the state to expand it to grades 3 through 8.


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