Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

NEA Files First National Lawsuit

After months of threats, the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, did it. Along with eight school districts and several state education associations, the NEA recently filed the first of its kind national lawsuit that pushes the Bush administration to pay the costs of the No Child Left Behind law's mandates.

"We're standing up for children, whose parents are saying, 'No more' to costly federal regulations that drain money from classrooms and spend it on paperwork, bureaucracy, and big test companies," NEA President Reg Weaver states in a release.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Achievement Alliance are among those opposing the suit. In a written statement, Susan Aspey, an education department spokeswoman, calls it "regrettable," spending time and members' "money in courtrooms." In three years, student achievement is rising and the achievement gap is narrowing, she says.

In a written statement, the Achievement Alliance says the suit won't help teachers struggling to help close achievement gaps and overcome obstacles of racism and poverty. Instead of filing a suit, "NEA should be working to ensure that their members are afforded every support needed to educate all of their students well," the statement says.

The Education Intelligence Agency, a teacher union watchdog group, allegedly found a memo from NEA's chief attorney two years ago claiming NCLB was voluntary and not an unfunded mandate, The Washington Times reports. NEA declined to comment.

Test Scores Rising But Schools Still Struggle With Mandates

Students in most districts are scoring higher on standardized tests and the achievement gap is narrowing under No Child Left Behind, according to a new survey by the Center on Education Policy. But in From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 3 of No Child Left Behind, educators want more money and English-language learners and disabled students exempted from testing requirements.

District officials in 49 states surveyed also say it's tough to monitor the effectiveness of after-school and supplemental education programs required and that very few students transfer from failing schools..

"The first message [of the survey] is that the rules are too tight and the second message is after the schools have been identified for help, the capacity to help them is not there,'' says CEP President Jack Jennings.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has expanded the number of students with disabilities who can take alternative tests. She also told educators that schools that help close the achievement gap can qualify for additional flexibility.

Jennings says the president's budget cuts education funds this year and last year's education budget increased by 1.6 percent, which doesn't cover increased health care or inflation.

--Fran Silverman

www.cep-dc.org

Utah Takes Action

When Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. recently signed a bill that orders state officials to ignore the federal education law provisions that conflict with Utah's education goals or that would use state money, the federal government took it as a step back to mediocrity.

"Turning back the clock and returning to the pre-NCLB days of fuzzy accountability and hiding children in averages will do nothing to help the students who are currently enrolled in Utah's schools," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has stated.

The action is the greatest challenge so far in the third year of President Bush's law, No Child Left Behind. Several lawmakers said the federal law unconstitutionally expands into state territory.

The problem for Utah now is funding. Spellings warned that depending on how the state complies, the U.S. Department of Education might withhold $76 million of $107 million that Utah receives in federal education money, according to Mark Peterson, spokesman for Utah Department of Education.

"We will continue to comply with what we need to comply with to keep the funds coming in," Peterson says. "The bill allows us to do whatever is minimally required to meet the provisions behind NCLB."

Utah will use the state school accountability system, or Utah Performance Assessment System for Students. The feds have said U-PASS falls short of key NCLB requirements, particularly requiring that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Peterson adds that Utah has given annual testing for years, before NCLB existed. The state uses criterion-referenced tests every year in math and language arts from grades 1 through 12, and science every year beginning in fourth grade.

When Democrat Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, the state's sole black representative, pushed for an amendment to guarantee student achievement data will continue to be reported separately for each racial and other subgroup, the legislature defeated it.

Peterson says schools know the students who are not testing well. "No one in Utah is looking to leave any child behind but we're also not looking to be held to such stringent standards that are impossible to make," Peterson says.

He adds that the state's third- through eighth-graders are 70 percent proficient in math and language arts, but high schools are struggling and many "special education kids are not making it."

--Angela Pascopella

Florida's A+ Plan: Ace over NCLB?

A controversial study of Florida schools shows that choice provisions in the state accountability plan are more effective in raising student achievement than the federal No Child Left Behind act.

In the first independent study examining NCLB's impact on student test-score performance, Harvard University researchers Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson show that Florida's fourth and fifth graders make modest but significant gains in reading and math if their school is at risk of becoming part of the state's voucher program. But Florida schools that were at risk of public-school choice provisions under NCLB showed no gains.

The report, The Efficacy of Choice Threats Within School Accountability Systems: Results from Legislatively Induced Experiments, however, stresses that the results don't measure overall effectiveness of either NCLB or Florida's A+ Accountability Plan. Since 2002, the state's fourth and fifth graders, on average, have improved on test scores.

Critics have stated the report is only a one-year result and hardly evidence of serious science.


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