Inside The Law
Bush Likely to Expand NCLB But No Major Changes
The re-election of George W. Bush to a second term likely means the No Child Left Behind Act will be expanded, but not significantly changed, say some education experts.
Bush, who during his campaign frequently touted the law that passed with bipartisan support in 2001, said he'd like to see many of its accountability measures extended to high school. But Bush also vowed not to roll back any of its major provisions despite the call by Democrats and some Republican representatives for reforms.
The law requires schools to regularly test students and make sure those students make adequate yearly progress, with the goal of having all students proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.
Theodor Rebarber, chief executive officer of the Education Leaders Council, says Bush has laid out a positive agenda for education reforms and a historic challenge.
"I've never seen a law that is perfect,'' he says. "But the important thing is we will see the continuation of most of the important elements of NCLB, including accountability, greater flexibility in spending federal resources, and extending reforms to the high school level."
Critics charge that the law's accountability standards don't accurately reflect student progress and that new measures are needed to test learning disabled and limited English proficient students, beyond the changes already passed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has introduced a bill that would alter several provisions of NCLB. But with Republicans gaining solid control of both the House and the Senate in November, critics of NCLB say it will be difficult to make any changes.
Critics also say they will continue their fight for increased funding for NCLB. Daniel Kaufman, spokesman for the National Education Association, says the federal government has underfunded the law by $27 billion since it was enacted.
But Bush supporters say education spending is at a record level. "The ceilings have not been reached,'' says Rebarber. "But that is not a sign of under-funding."
Paige to Resign As Education Secretary
Education Secretary Rod Paige will resign his Cabinet position. Paige, 71, came to prominence as an award-winning superintendent in Houston before becoming secretary in a time of huge change in federal education policy. An outspoken defender of demanding more from schools, he has been the public face behind No Child Left Behind, the law at the center of Bush's domestic agenda.
Paige has presided over the biggest federal shakeup to education in a generation, a law demanding that schools show improvement among all students, regardless of race or wealth. Paige, who grew up in segregated Mississippi, puts No Child Left Behind in the category of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended separating schools by race.
Yet Paige has had rocky moments, with none more glaring than when he called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization" in a private meeting with governors.
He apologized but maintained that the NEA, the nation's largest teachers union, uses "obstructionist scare tactics" in opposing the law. The union called for his resignation.
Sandy Kress, a former senior education adviser to Bush, said that Paige "has spoken with great moral authority about the goals of No Child Left Behind. He feels it personally. He brought a history, he brought experience, and I think he brought a great commitment to the cause."
From college dean and school superintendent to the nation's education chief, Paige has built a career on the belief that education equalizes opportunity. As his tenure unfolded, he chose increasingly forceful terms in defending Bush's agenda.
He compared critics of the administration's education overhaul to those who opposed school desegregation 50 years ago, saying both will fall on the wrong side of history.
And Paige said private-school vouchers in the District of Columbia amount to nothing short of "emancipation" for hundreds of poor and minority students, allowing them to "throw off the chains of a school system that has not served them well."
"I think he's a better man than they even know," said William Bennett, who served as education secretary under President Reagan. "He's an in-the-trenches reformer."
Web Site Faults Law Despite Noble Goals
A new Web site, launched by Results for America, a project of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute, is designed to help the public understand how the law's school reforms appear to be faltering and how it has sparked local opposition.
The idea was born after a February 2004 survey, conducted by Results for America, showed that parental support for NCLB is lacking.
Articles on the site are sorted by such issues as federal intrusion in education policy; narrowing of curriculum; teacher flexibility; class size; funding burden; adequate yearly progress reporting; and standardized testing.
"Results for America is calling for a more open and full debate by all parties on the real effects this policy is having on our kids, their learning, the teaching profession and families," says Pam Solo, president of Civil Society Institute.
Other organizations, as well as many minority superintendents and administrators, view the law as a welcome wake-up call to pull up at-risk and minority or poor students.
A Smooth Transition ... With Some Aid
Mikeidra is one of several students the magazine is featuring to personify how the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act is helping or not helping students.
LaTrice Pew, mother of seventh-grader Mikeidra Mitchell, admits she was worried about the transition to middle school in the Hamilton City School District in Ohio. Two years ago, her daughter's grades dropped, and her reading comprehension skills were three years below grade level.
The trend was reversed, but Garfield Middle School Principal Ken Pierson says it's normal for students who wobble between achieving and struggling to have a difficult transition to middle school. Their grades can fall without individual attention from one or two teachers like they get in elementary school.
Mikeidra is earning nearly all As and Bs.
Reading Connections, a supplemental reading class, keeps Mikeidra on track. The individualized class addresses three learning styles--kinesthetic, auditory and visual, explains teacher Becky Lawson. Mikeidra has warmed up to the auditory emphasis and is listening to an audio book during a silent reading portion of the daily 50-minute class. Lawson says the biggest surprise about Mikeidra was her relatively high pre-test scores that placed her reading skills close to seventh grade reading level. But fifth grade proficiency test scores two years ago indicated Mikeidra was struggling on the verge of proficiency and could benefit from the class.
Fall testing indicates that Mikeidra could still struggle with vocabulary. Audio books reinforce new vocabulary by clarifying inferences, re-wording important but challenging passages and asking students to stop and think about the meaning of what they are reading.
Lawson predicts Reading Connections will work well for Mikeidra because of her commitment. She says the extra focus on reading will help Mikeidra in all classes because reading is key to academic success. Pierson adds that the school prevents students from falling through the cracks by monitoring grades and matching kids who need extra help with a teacher who can provide individualized attention and assist with study skills during a lunch/lounge period.
Mikeidra says her academic struggles have ended. She's developed relationships with her teachers and understands expectations. Mikeidra concludes, "I know I can keep earning good grades."
Debate is Over: NCLB Works
Forget debating NCLB's funding, the effectiveness of standardized tests or parents' ability to send their child to a higher performing public school.
Former Education Secretary Rod Paige announced recently the "debate is over" about whether the No Child Left Behind law is working or not. Indeed, positive changes in academic achievement are occurring, he says, slowly, but surely. "If we remain resolute and steadfast, year by year, more powerful and positive changes will follow," Paige was quoted in recent news stories.