How to Keep Our Children from Being Left Behind

The time is long overdue to fix No Child Left Behind

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The No Child Left Behind Law, enacted to ensure that the children of America get the best education possible, is in trouble. President Barack Obama, says it’s not working – and he intends to free the states from its rigid requirements.

    “Congress hasn’t been able to do it, so I will,” the President said. “Starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards.”

    In other words, No Child Left Behind is leaving many children far behind. And the time is long overdue to fix it.

    Exactly what Obama wants -- or the Republicans who have already taken a stand against him want -- is still a bit unclear. Obama says he won’t make states comply with the No Child Left Behind Law if they agree to higher standards to improve their schools. If so, they will get waivers from the law’s deadlines.

    The Republican chairman of the House education committee, John Kline, concedes that the law needs to be changed but he condemns the Obama administration for “doing it with executive orders and rewriting rules. This is executive overreach.”

    What the citizens of America are left with is a murky situation. Exactly what rules and orders will be re-written? Are we facing further politicization of the issue of better education for our kids?

    President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have urged a re-writing of the law to encourage states to raise standards, concentrate drastic interventions only on the worst failing schools and use test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness. It amounts to a shift from federal to state influence over educational policy. Yet Obama warned: “This doesn’t mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability.”

    Obama said that the states could apply for waivers of 10 central provisions of the No Child law, including the provision that all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

    Two educators praised Obama’s initiative. Sara Robertson of the National Education Association told me it was “a step in the right direction.”  Yet, she said, much more needed to be done. Teachers have been criticizing the No Child Left Behind “test-label-punish approach”  for more than 10 years, she said, and “the NEA believes there must be common sense measures of student progress, freedom to implement local ideas, respect for their judgment and the right to be a part of critical decisions.” 

    Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy told me it was a “dereliction of duty” for Congress to fail to revamp the NCLB law in the last three years. “What we’ve had chiefly are political problems. On the House side, the Tea Party members don’t believe there should be a federal role in education.  But, when the Democrats controlled both houses earlier in the Obama administration, the education problem slipped right off their radar screen. “

    Jennings said that, with the Obama administration relaxing some requirements for teachers and administrators, “there should be less pressure on teachers and principals.”

    The law, he says, will be less “punitive.”    

    It appears that, for a brief time, there may be more stability in the nation’s educational system. But the ability of Obama to control the situation temporarily isn’t likely to produce harmony.

    There is no Democratic or Republican way to educate a child. It’s unfortunate that the wrangling between the parties seems to be at the expense of the children, who indeed are being left behind.