Despite the harsh criticism this election season has spawned of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB), progress is being made, according to its proponents.
“Most of the states are seeing actual student achievement on the rise, more closing of the gap,” Ross Weiner, of Education Trust, said in a recent forum at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “ In fact, scores have raised more in the past 2 years than in the past 5 combined.”
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, President Bush shared a story that NCLB advocates say is typical: “In northeast Georgia, Gainesville Elementary School is mostly Hispanic and 90 percent poor. And this year, 90 percent of its students passed state tests in reading and math. The principal expresses the philosophy of his school this way: ‘We don’t focus on what we can’t do at this school; we focus on what we can do. And we do whatever it takes to get kids across the finish line.”
President Bush praised this principal for “challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Administration officials, in turn, offer similar anecdotes.
At the AEI forum, Michael Petrilli, of the U.S. Department of Education, shared more optimism regarding NCLB as he recalled a teacher’s comments at a national gathering of educators. “For the first time,” the teacher said, “I am being judged by results and not by how pretty my bulletin board is.” President Bush said “We are transforming our schools by raising standards and focusing on results. We are insisting on accountability, [and] empowering parents and teachers.”
Under NCLB all public school students in grades three through eight are annually tested in math and science. An excerpt from a study by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Frederick M. Hess summarizes the vital tenets of NCLB: “Schools must have adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward universal pupil proficiency in core subjects. If a school fails to make mandated progress, various sanctions and interventions intended to rectify the problem and set the school on a path toward rising achievement are to follow.”
Two years after NCLB was drafted and passed, it is still “too premature to assess how its myriad of provisions have affected pupil achievement,” Hess and Finn found. It is not too soon, however, to “ask whether some of its key elements are being successfully implemented.” The twin provisions that are intended to provide students with better education and to create incentives for schools to improve are school choice options and “supplemental educational services” or SES.
Thus, if a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, and if it receives federal Title 1 dollars, its students must be offered a “public school choice.” If the school fails to reach AYP a third consecutive year, it must provide students an opportunity to enroll in supplemental educational services, or after school tutoring.
Hess and Finn’s study referenced data from an extensive survey of state officials, which found that states were doing a very poor job in implementing NCLB’s choice provisions. “Even grading on a curve,” the study said, “most states earn D’s and F’s.” Results from fifty cities indicate that “programs are taking shape but participation rates are low.”
Much of NCLB’s criticism is due to an accused lack of funding. Michael Petrilli replies, “funding has gone up 49 percent under President Bush, and several studies have shown that there is funding available.” The President has promised “a record level of funding” to implement the reforms.
No Child Left Behind should be allowed to “run its course,” most of the speakers at the AEI event agreed. But, many point out, as is the case with any major law, “time alone cannot solve all the evident problems.”
A recent graduate of Brigham Young University, Abraham Taylor is an intern at Accuracy in Media.