The No Child Left Behind Act—the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—passed in 2001 with bipartisan agreement over two things: the need for the education reforms laid out in law, and the need for adequate resources to support the major reforms that it was asking states and districts to undertake.
The first goal was met, but seven years later, the second still has not. Congress passed President Bush’s law, but the president has not kept up his side of the bargain, and the lack of funding for implementation has severely hampered the law’s popularity and efficacy. Because the presidential election is in full swing, some analysts and commentators are now expressing skepticism about whether the law will be reauthorized this year.
Important changes are surely needed to make the No Child Left Behind more effective, but the law has led to progress in improving achievement for all students, particularly low-income and minority children. Rather than scrapping the law entirely, President Bush and lawmakers should step up this year and commit to making it more effective.
Why do we need NCLB to be reauthorized now? Because it is beginning to work. Data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress demonstrate achievement gains since its enactment. Student achievement in fourth grade reading and mathematics is increasing and we are closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. All of the states have developed standards and assessments in reading and mathematics. But most importantly, states, districts, and schools are being held accountable for the achievement of all students. Because NCLB requires student achievement data to be disaggregated by subgroup, we can no longer mask the achievement of some students.
President Bush can have a strong influence on the outcome of reauthorization by proposing the funding and supporting the necessary improvements needed to make the law successful in his budget today. If he is serious about his signature domestic achievement, he needs to support additional funding to win bipartisan cooperation on a reauthorization bill. His bully pulpit is also critically important and he should begin to use it in a forceful way to advocate for continuation of NCLB’s core principles along with some critical changes to make the law work better for all students.
At an event entitled, “Improving No Child Left Behind Now: The Cost of Waiting,” Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, the co-chair of the Commission on No Child Left Behind, called for a “surge on NCLB.” We at the Center for American Progress agree that a surge is needed and co-hosted the event with the Commission on NCLB, the Business Coalition for Student Achievement, the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Education Trust, the Citizen’s Commission on Civil Rights, the Campaign for High School Equity, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and the National Council of La Raza on Thursday, January 31, to call for the immediate reauthorization of NCLB.
At the event, Secretary Thompson, Governor Roy Barnes, and staff from the majority and minority Senate and House Education Committees cited the major accomplishments of the law and the urgency of moving forward with what we’ve learned over the past six years. All highlighted the law’s importance in making the achievement of all students transparent and holding schools accountable for educating all students. They also talked about the momentum that’s been generated to make improvements in the law, including incorporating growth models into the accountability system, providing additional help to struggling schools, providing incentives for more rigorous standards, and addressing low high school graduation rates. This bipartisan group was hopeful but realistic about the prospects for reauthorization.
Presidential leadership could make a big difference. We urge President Bush to take a stand by recommending the needed resources and working with Congress to reauthorize NCLB swiftly. We need to build on the progress that’s been made over the past six years to ensure all children have every opportunity to meet their potential and to be ready to compete in a global economy.