"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Gathering Storm Against NCLB

From the Florida Times-Union--ht to Susan O:
Let's drop No Child Left Behind

The television news recently captured my attention with iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore blasting the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats.

He was demanding those now in control of the government's budget immediately order a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

While no fan of Moore, it is tantalizing to think of a similar tirade he might direct toward federal interference in control of education through the No Child Left Behind Act.

Now that the election has been decided, politicians are talking of bipartisanship. What we really need is nonpartisanship, not bipartisanship.

We need to find out whether the majority of Democrats really care about the issues facing schools.

Politically informed citizens of either party are displeased with No Child. Conservatives have expressed their displeasure with No Child's federal control. Liberals criticize the law that places accountability measures on teachers whose unions are among their largest benefactors.

It is important to recognize the contradiction inherent in supporting local control through charter schools and vouchers while unloading federal education mandates on the nation's public schools, many of them unfunded. It has been well documented that No Child is not improving education quality. The current administration is using misleading statistics to support No Child.

Also, corruption issues are emerging:

First, seeking to build support for its education reform law, the Bush administration inappropriately paid commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 with federal tax dollars to promote No Child on his nationally syndicated television show.

Then according to the U.S. Department of Education's own inspector general, the $5 billion "Reading First" program showed preference in funding curricula developed by publisher McGraw-Hill. As reported in a previous column, the Bush and McGraw families have been personal friends since the 1930s and the McGraws have been generous donors to the Bush presidential campaigns. Under No Child, the administration populated the committees charged with approving states' curriculums with individuals having "significant professional connections" to another profitable McGraw program, "Direct Instruction."

In October, the Los Angeles Times documented that "Ignite Learning," a company owned by President Bush's brother and his parents, is benefiting from federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students. Many U.S. school districts were convinced to use federal funds to purchase products from Neil Bush's company, such as Ignite's "portable learning centers" that cost $3,800 each. Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and the Ignite math program is not scheduled to be available until next year.

Department of Education officials appointed by a president elected as a "compassionate conservative" are now hinting at a new Washington, D.C., controlled "national standardized test." This, in turn, will require billions of dollars in development and implementation costs.

Before such a test could be developed, additional contracts would be let and national content standards would have to be developed. Efforts would likely rely on firms like McGraw-Hill that are currently reaping the benefits of the flawed No Child legislation.

Public schools were created to provide every child an opportunity to succeed. It is high time federal interference in our schools be "Left Behind." Democrats have the power of the purse strings needed to step up and abolish No Child.

While it is rare for Democrats to reduce federal involvement, the new congressional leadership needs to empower local governments to:

1. Better address problems of children who are homeless, live in poverty and lack health care, by reducing federal taxes in lieu of state initiatives in this area.

2. Realize that testing alone does not increase performance.

3. Eliminate No Child's culture of simplistic criterion referenced tests by simply abolishing them. Before No Child, the country had excellent nationally normed tests in use in all states.

4. Reclaim governance of public education, a function documented in state constitutions, but
not anywhere in our national constitution.

5. Receive federal dollars spent on education without restrictions from Washington, D.C.

Simply put, No Child can never reach its stated goal for every child to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Instead of helping to tinker with No Child, as is being discussed, Democrats now need to lead the effort to abolish the law they have continually criticized.

William Bainbridge of St. Augustine is CEO of SchoolMatch, a national educational auditing, research and data organization.

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