What an wishful title for Chubb--"Within Our Reach. . ." Indeed.
Within Our Reach, an assessment of the No Child Left Behind Act, debuts at a Koret Task Force Washington, D.C., presentationApril 21, 2005
Members of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force (KTF) on K–12 Education, along with representatives from Edison Schools, on April 21 in Washington, D.C., offered their findings and recommendations to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), nearly four years after its passage by a large bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress.
Within Our Reach: How America Can Educate Every Child, a thorough assessment of NCLB and its progress, copublished by the Hoover Institution and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, debuted at the presentation, which was held at the National Press Club.
"NCLB has the potential to do for the quality of education in America's schools what Brown v. Board of Education did for the equality of America's schools," said John Chubb, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the founders of Edison Schools.
According to Chubb, NCLB may well be a watershed event in American education. Its goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students in reading and math by 2014 is audacious but achievable. The KTF's 18-month study of NCLB, however, has revealed serious flaws in the act that, if left uncorrected, could squander a historic opportunity.
Chubb summarized the extent of the problem in America's schools. On reading and math tests given to America's fourth and eighth graders, one-third scored below basic, meaning they were functionally illiterate, and another third demonstrated merely basic skills. Only the remaining one-third scored as proficient or advanced, he said.
That progress can be made is evidenced by rates of gain in major school districts that have adopted NCLB principles—accountability, transparency, and choice. Those rates have doubled in the last two to three years.
Chubb summarized the basic problems and suggested reforms for NCLB. Some states have set their standards too low, he said, which creates a "train wreck waiting to happen."
The solution, as described by Caroline Hoxby, a distinguished fellow at Hoover and a professor of economics at Harvard, would be to give all students the nationally standardized NAEP test and publicize the results, allowing parents to understand how their state's standards measure up. At the same time, current and yearly test scores could be evaluated by standard statistical procedures. The resulting trend lines would be projected into the future to demonstrate whether schools are on a trajectory to meet NCLB's accountability provisions.
Terry Moe, a senior fellow at Hoover and a professor of political science at Stanford University, addressed the issue of qualified teachers. Current standards, as set by states under pressure from teachers unions, among others, do not adequately measure teacher qualifications, he said.
Moe outlined task force recommendations that all teachers either have bachelors' degrees or higher in the subject they are teaching or pass a rigorous test to demonstrate competence in their field. Further, the Department of Education should set up an independent commission to certify that all state tests set the bar high enough, he added.
John Chubb addressed the fact that the school choice options provided for in NCLB are picked up by only 2 percent of those eligible. This is largely because choice is limited to only public schools in the same district and because schools are lack incentives to encourage parents to change schools, he said.
Task force recommendations include (1) allowing parents to exercise the choice option for one year after the school fails to meet its annual yearly progress (AYP) requirements, so schools can't discourage choice by late notification, (2) allowing parents to opt for schools regardless of AYP status, (3) allowing parents to choose schools outside their district if they're willing to shoulder the transportation costs, and (4) including private schools in the choice program if the schools are willing to accept the per pupil expenditure.
Diane Ravitch, distinguished visiting fellow at Hoover and research professor at New York University, stressed NCLB's continuity with past education reform efforts and the 20 solid years of bipartisan support for the principles embodied in NCLB. The task force described complaints about the cost of funding NCLB as a "red herring," as its direct costs are more than covered by funding increases that have followed its enactment.
Panelist Frederick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute seconded the task force's view that the NCLB was important, if imperfect, legislation that can be improved.
Within Our Reach was edited by Koret Task Force member John Chubb. Contributors were Koret Task Force members Williamson M. Evers, Eric A. Hanushek, Caroline M. Hoxby, Terry M. Moe, Paul E. Peterson, Diane Ravitch, Herbert J. Walberg, and Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute, San Francisco.
The book is available from Rowman & Littlefield at 1-800-462-6420 or www.rowmanlittlefield.com
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