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

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Who Is Accountable for Five Years of NCLB's Failed Policy?

A big chunk of a nice piece in the Macon Telegraph:

An increasing number of schools fear stiff penalties in part because NCLB is woefully underfunded. The law has never been funded at the authorized levels, and schools face a cumulative 6-year shortfall likely to exceed $56 billion.

After a reasonable increase in funding in the first year, and smaller increases in the succeeding three years, funding was cut by over $1 billion dollars last year. To add insult to injury, there are more mandates this year that schools must comply with, yet they are receiving less money than they were three years ago.

About 80 percent of school districts said they have costs associated with NCLB not covered by federal funding. Indeed, in this current school year 62 percent of all school districts had their Title I funds cut.

According to the Education Department, 27 percent of schools failed to meet "adequate yearly progress" under the law for 2004- 2005, a one percentage point increase from 2003-2004. NEA's positive agenda calls on lawmakers to provide adequate tools and resources to comply with the law.

Educators, parents and the general public all want positive changes to the law that will help students succeed. According to a recent survey, about 70 percent of NEA members said they disapprove of NCLB and 57 percent said they want major reforms. Most people share their concerns. Nearly six in 10 Americans believe NCLB has had no effect on schools, or has had a negative effect, according to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll.

NEA has been collecting eyewitness accounts of educators' experiences with the law and compiled them into "ESEA/NCLB: It's Time for a Change! Voices from America's Classrooms," a publication that will be released next week. The stories are from every state, from all size school districts, and from all types of educators, but they raise strikingly similar concerns.

Karol Nyberg, a high school teacher in Grand Forks, ND, said: "It's a professional slap in the face, someone telling you, after you've been working so hard at your craft for 30 years, that all of a sudden you are not qualified to do it.

"But the piece that did surprise me was the number of young teachers who told me they were getting out because they said that 'if they do this to us now, what else are they going to decide to pull when we get further into our careers and don't have any options?'

"They felt that now they have the option to go and do something else, to be treated with more respect, and to make more money at the same time."

Not only do NEA and educators throughout the country have serious concerns about this law, but so do a wide variety of other organizations and policymakers. A coalition of 99 national organizations representing education, civil rights, religious, children, disability rights and other interests have joined together and called for changes to NCLB. The National Conference of State Legislatures last year issued a report criticizing the law and calling for specific changes. And in the previous Congress, 41 bills supported by NEA to amend NCLB were introduced, including several sponsored by Republicans.

Will Potter is a member of the NEA's media relations team.

Myth No. 1 - No Child Left Behind is working.

Reality: While the Bush administration claims that the No Child Left Behind Act is "99.9 percent pure" and working, in fact, it is leaving children behind and failing to close the gaps in student achievement. Moreover, the law labels students as failing and unfairly punishes schools.

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, in a June 2006 report, said, "NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states É [and it] has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap."

Myth No. 2 - Schools and educators are spending more time helping students learn and less time filling out forms.

Reality: The Bush administration claimed, when it signed the law, that educators and schools would spend more time teaching and less time doing paperwork. In fact, the opposite is true. Educators and school personnel are spending millions of additional hours and dollars doing paperwork as a result of NCLB. This means less time preparing students and drawing up lesson plans. It means more time drafting compliance plans to submit to Washington bureaucrats.

(According to the U.S. Department of Education, states and schools are expected to spend 6,457,586 burden hours and $135.9 million to comply with the paperwork requirements of NCLB.)

Myth No. 3 -Congress is providing record levels of funding to schools.

Reality: When Congress enacted the law, it promised to provide the resources necessary to meet the law's many mandates. Unfortunately, it is failing to provide the tools and resources that educators and students need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected 21st century global community.

Congress has been shortchanging states, schools and parents to the tune of $40 billion since the law's enactment. In FY 06 (funding for the 2006Ð07 school year), Congress cut NCLB by over $1 billion, bringing the level of resources available to schools below what was provided three years ago. Both the pending House and Senate FY 07 legislation would cut funding by an additional $400-$500 million. And because of federal funding shortfalls, states such as Connecticut and Ohio are using their own money to close the funding gap.

(In 2005Ð2006, two-thirds of all school districts received less Title I money than they had the previous year. In 2006Ð2007, an additional 62 percent of school districts have had their Title I funding cut because Congress reduced overall Title I funding.)

Myth No.4 - NCLB is on track to eliminate the achievement gap by 2014.

Reality: With news headlines such as "Schools slow in closing gaps between races," and "What it will really take to close the education gap," the gaps in student achievement remain persistent. According to UCLA's National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), the "most serious problem is that the NCLB expectations for student achievement have been set unrealistically high, requiring that by the year 2014, 100 percent of students must reach the proficient level or above in math and reading.

"Based on current improvement levels and without major changes in the definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP), almost all schools will fail to meet NCLB requirements within the next few years."

According to a study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University released June 2006: Only 24 to 34 percent of students will meet the proficiency target in reading and 29 to 64 percent will meet the math proficiency target by 2014. If the current trend continues, the proficiency gap between advantaged white and disadvantaged minority students will hardly close by 2014. The study predicts that, by 2014, less than 25 percent of poor and black students will achieve NAEP proficiency in reading and less than 50 percent will achieve proficiency in math.

Myth No. 5 - Educators oppose NCLB, testing, and accountability.

Reality: Educators have supported the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since its inception in 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it as part of the War on Poverty. They strongly support the stated goals of NCLB - to improve student achievement and help close the achievement gaps.

However, the rigid accountability system under NCLB focuses excessively on labeling and punishing. Educators are insisting on meaningful accountability, one that's more flexible and comprehensive than the existing one-size-fits-all.

Educators understand that all children can learn but not all children learn in the same way and at the same rate. Meaningful accountability should acknowledge and differentiate between a truly failing school and one that is short on only one of 37 federally mandated criteria.

Myth No. 6 - Support for NCLB is strong and growing.

Reality: The more Americans know about NCLB, the more they dislike what the law is doing to teaching and learning in our public schools and classrooms. A recent independent poll found 7 out of 10 Americans who are knowledgeable about the law believe it is either making no difference or hurting local schools.

An NEA member poll also found similar results. Nearly half of members polled said that NCLB is hurting the teaching conditions in the schools in which they work, and educators are not alone. One hundred national organizations have signed a joint organizational statement on NCLB that calls for significant changes to the law during reauthorization. In addition, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have proposed legislation to improve NCLB.

Myth No. 7- NCLB is improving teaching and learning in America's classrooms.

Reality: Teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum are only two of the unintended consequences of the fundamentally flawed law. School districts are spending more time on reading and math - the two subjects on which tests are based under NCLB - sometimes at the expense of other subjects not tested.

(According to the Center on Education Policy, 71 percent of districts are reducing time spent on other subjects in elementary schools, and 60 percent of districts require a specific amount of time for reading in elementary school.)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills said, "The No Child Left Behind Act risks losing relevance if an innovative approach to reauthorization is not pursuedÉ" One of its recommendations is that "NCLB's assessment and accountability system should be based on multiple measures of students' abilities that include 21st century skills."

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, "is anybody prepared to tackle one of that law's most damaging unintended consequences? We refer, of course, to 'the big squeeze'- the compression of the curriculum to little but reading, math and sometimes science. Doubling the time that schools devote to math and reading in response to state and federal testing requirements won't truly prepare young Americans for life in the 21st century. It probably won't even boost reading and math scores in the long term, concluded a conference of policymakers, business leaders, and educators."

Happy Anniversary!!

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