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NCLB--year for change.

Much debate continues about whether the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has actually improved the academic achievement level of poorly performing students or only created yet another layer of government oversight to an already heavily burdened public school system. I am sure most of you have been following NCLB developments, especially with reauthorization of NCLB now pending in Congress. Possibly many others are directly involved with implementation of the higher state standards and assessment of student performance mandated by the federal government via NCLB. Drafted in 2001 and signed into law in January 2002, NCLB provided the framework for President George W. Bush's bipartisan education reform plan intended to ensure that every child in U.S. public schools has equal access to high-quality education and, in the process, raise the achievement level of elementary and secondary school students.

Based on what I have read in the newspaper and have heard colleagues talk about, I believe we can expect some much-needed changes to NCLB that will address such important issues as achievement gaps, inadequate federal funding, lack of uniformity of state accountability standards, lack of input from highly experienced educators, excessive testing, and teaching to the test--which all worry me, as does state-imposed sanctions on schools that fail to meet state-determined standards. There is also the problem of children switching schools, which further penalizes schools that have not met federal mandates. The 2006-07 school year, incidentally, was the first year that all NCLB provisions went into effect. The system, such as it is, is largely punitive. Teachers as well as parents think it actually hinders progress being made in many areas in public schools and, in the process, leaves classroom teachers and administrators struggling with NCLB compliance issues.

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As I reported in this column previously, NCLB is founded on the following underlying principles or objectives:

* Increased accountability for states, school districts, and schools, holding them responsible for student learning/achievement results. School districts and schools that do not meet state academic standards or proficiency goals in reading and mathematics and also fail to show improvement from one year to the next are subject to corrective action or restructuring. NCLB requires annual testing of all students in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math.

* Greater flexibility in terms of public school choice for parents and students, particularly for students attending Title I schools that failed to meet state standards for three of the past four years. School district report cards enable parents, teachers, principals, and others to evaluate and identify those school districts and schools whose students are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined in NCLB. Students attending "low performing schools," that is, schools that fail to meet state goals for reading and math, are afforded the opportunity to transfer to a higher performing public school. This provision helps to ensure that no child is trapped in a failing school. Low-income students are also eligible for free transportation to another school and supplemental services, including free tutoring and extra help with homework. With NCLB, the very real possibility of losing student enrollment and the associated funding becomes a strong incentive for low-performing schools to improve.

* NCLB also gives states, school districts, and schools more control as well as the flexibility to decide how best to use federal education funds awarded in recognition of strong state test results. States and local educational agencies under NCLB are authorized to transfer funds to supplement state grant programs, which include Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools. The money also can be transferred to support Title I programs.

* Finally, NCLB promotes the President's new Reading First initiative, which substantially increases federal funding available to help children learn to read by the end of the 3rd grade. States and many school districts receive money to help maintain high-quality reading instruction programs that are research based and proven to work--programs designed to give children the fundamental knowledge and reading skills they will need to succeed in school and beyond.

Undoubtedly, NCLB initiatives/goals have resulted in higher academic standards in school districts and schools across the country, which is good, albeit not without problems as more and more inner-city schools fail to meet federal and state guidelines. Many teachers, school administrators, and a growing list of federal and state legislators have been seriously questioning the mandates of NCLB. They believe that having the same expectations for every child is unrealistic, recognizing that it is essential to have an accountability system that addresses the needs of students at all levels of ability or potential. The problem is compounded as the students who perform the poorest in school usually include a disproportionately higher number of minority students as well as those from poor families. Obviously, children with learning disabilities and those who have difficulty with English are the most disadvantaged. Concerning the latter, the U.S. Department of Education has recently proposed new policies that, according to the Honorable Doug Mesecar, could accommodate these children.

In response to concerns that NCLB is actually costing schools more in terms of money and staff time to implement and that the goals are unrealistic, Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) has introduced legislation that will give responsibility for education to the individual states, not to the federal government and the mandates of NCLB. This, I believe, is how it should be and many states are already moving in this direction. The states then will determine accountability standards, establish proficiency levels, and decide how best to teach all students, including those with disabilities. NCLB is obviously an important piece of legislation, as are all issues that have a significant impact on the rights, education, and well-being of children in the United States and abroad. I encourage ACEI members worldwide to voice their concerns for children and share best practices* Our combined voices can make a difference.

--Jerry Odland, Executive Director
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Title Annotation:From the Executive Director
Author:Odland, Jerry
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Sep 22, 2007
Words:986
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