Improve No Child Left Behind

Hearings begin in Congress this week on the NCLB Act

This week the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee is beginning a series of hearings on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which is scheduled for reauthorization in 2007. The first hearing on Thursday, May 18 will examine the impact of NCLB on reading and math instruction — a move the Center for American Progress applauds.

We support the goals of NCLB to strengthen the public education system for all students and most importantly to close achievement gaps between students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English with their more advantaged peers. NCLB introduced new strategies to reach these goals and strong accountability measures, including requirements for much greater transparency through public reporting of achievement levels of subgroups of students as they progress through school.

But progress in reading and math achievement gains to date has been slow. This is because of design flaws in NCLB and faulty implementation at all levels — federal, state, and local. To begin with, the new law required all states to hold districts and schools accountable for getting all students to “proficient” levels of achievement, yet NCLB allows them to adopt their own definitions of “proficiency.” Many states have gamed the accountability requirements of NCLB by lowering their curriculum standards and/or proficiency definitions. Such action can lead, perversely, to weakening curriculum and lowering, not raising, expectations.

The NCLB teacher quality requirements have been equally disappointing. A belated but relatively careful look by the Department of Education has concluded that no states are expected to meet the definition of employing 100% highly qualified teachers by the NCLB deadline of the end of the 2005-2006 school year. The Department of Education and most states and districts have virtually ignored NCLB requirements to report on and take action to correct the grossly inequitable distribution of highly qualified teachers between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

What’s more, the billion dollar NCLB Reading First program is the target of investigations by both GAO and the Department of Education Inspector General of allegations of conflicts of interest among the department’s consultants for the program.

What’s required are much more aggressive and comprehensive federal strategies as a condition of receipt of funds by its state and local public education partners, so that together the country’s educators prepare all our students fully for the challenges of the 21st century. The Center for American Progress has set forth a comprehensive education agenda that should be incorporated into a reauthorized and expanded NCLB.

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