The Economist : NCLB Version 2

Thursday, March 24, 2011

…..Ten years ago Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a bold effort to improve America’s schools. On March 14th Mr Obama announced that he wants to pass a new version by August. It could be one of his most important feats. But it will not be easy. The main problem is that politicians still disagree on Washington’s role in education. The federal government provides less than 10% of the money schools spend. But NCLB, the most recent incarnation of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, gave the federal government unprecedented influence. States must set standards of achievement. Schools that fail to make progress face sanctions. NCLB exposed the dismal performance of schools. But it has also demonstrated how clumsy Washington’s hand can be. A requirement for “highly qualified” teachers turns out to have helped keep states from hiring good ones. State standards diverge wildly. NCLB’s main goal, for all pupils to be proficient in reading and maths by 2014, is unrealistic. And thanks to an odd way of judging schools, more than 80% may be labelled as “failing” this year.

Mr Obama has already offered one new model: dangle carrots for reform and hope that states bite. The stimulus offered more than $4 billion in grants for states that made certain changes, such as lifting caps on the number of charter schools and devising new ways to evaluate teachers. No state had to apply for the grant programme, Race to the Top, but 46 did. With the new version of NCLB, Mr Obama can go further. He wants to set clear goals but give states more flexibility in meeting them. His plan would fix NCLB’s most obvious failings, such as neglecting to track the progress of individual pupils. Only the worst schools would face dramatic intervention. Districts would evaluate teachers on a range of factors, including pupil performance. Such plans would seem ripe for bipartisan compromise. Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, thinks that Mr Obama has moved in the right direction. Many of the president’s priorities, such as improving teaching, overlap with those of conservatives. But Republicans are wary. John Kline, the chairman of the House education committee, frets that states spend too much time complying with federal rules. Race to the Top had good goals, but poor implementation. He is dubious about the proposed interventions for failing schools—a concern he shares with the teachers’ unions. Mr Kline’s party now faces an awkward choice. If the Republicans pass a new version of NCLB, they will give Mr Obama a victory. But if they do nothing, Democrats will blame them for failing to fix a law that voters have come to hate.

Reference : http://www.economist.com/node/18396095/print

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