Republicans and Democrats in Congress are gearing up for battle as the fiasco created by the No Child Left Behind Act is finally coming to light. As rebellion mounts from coast to coast over the ridiculous reform legislation that is ruining public education in the United States, the ideological battle at the heart of this war on public schools is just heating up.
This article in today's Christian Science Monitor indicates that the battle lines are being drawn between those who want to abolish the federal role in education and funding and the national level and those who continue to support it. Republicans call it the A-Plus Actis and ironically, if they have their way, this Federal involvement in education will legislate public education right out of existence by paving the way for vouchers.
On the House side, 52 Republicans, including minority whip Roy Blunt, are cosponsoring the A-Plus Act, introduced by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan. Thirty-three Republicans voted against the NCLB bill, most of whom are cosponsoring the Hoekstra bill. This bill, along with a companion bill in the Senate, revives a formula that drove GOP education policy in the 1990s: that the best route to accountability is through local control and parental choice, not a bigger federal footprint on education.
"We must move education decisionmaking out of Washington closer to where it belongs – with parents and teachers," said Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, a cosponsor of the Senate version of this bill and typically one of the strongest supporters of the Bush administration in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are moving towards abolishing the impossible 100 prociency targets and replacing them with "growth models" for measuring student progress. What appears to be missing from the discussion, however, is any real or meaningful talk of reducing class size, building construction, raising teacher salaries, equitable funding mechanisms, health care and employment opportunities that might reduce poverty rates and lead to better test scores.
Democrats also aim to revise aspects of how the law is implemented, including revising strategies for turning around low-performing schools. Of some 90,000 public schools, about 9,000 have been targeted by NCLB as needing improvement. "We want to make turning around our most struggling schools a priority in this reauthorization," says Roberto Rodriguez, senior education adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. That panel is considering shifting to alternative measures of "adequate yearly progress," including models that account for the improvement of individual students over a school year, rather than whether they meet target proficiency standards.
As long as the Business Roundtable and the politicians continue to talk amongst themselves and ignore the voices of educators and the experts or professionals in education, the ideologically driven war over education will continue to leave American students behind. Both Democrats and Republicans have been blinded by a testing mania that has dominated the discourse on education because it is now entrenched in the corporate takeover of schooling and a multi-billion dollar testing industry with a stake in the outcome and deep pockets for election campaigns.
While "the role of the federal government" in education will be hotly debated when NCLB comes up for reauthorization the Democrats and Republicans must be made to understand that more money for testing and accountability should not come at the expense of meaningful reform. If this nation does not start investing wisely in children and teachers, in civics, history, art, and literature along with math and science, the next generation of students will look back on public education as a relic of the past and democracy as a dream for the future.