As No Child Left Behind marks its second anniversary this month, the wide-ranging law is facing its toughest criticism. I've both praised and criticized the law already, so this month I'll comment on how it is being perceived by superintendents, presidential candidates, and the public itself.
First, school administrators. A new survey shows that one out of every three superintendents say the law "won't work." More surprising, Public Agenda's survey, Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What's Needed to Fix Public Schools, found that only four in 10 superintendents say the law is created to improve public schools. Three in 10 called NCLB "a disguised effort to attack and destroy public education."
On the whole, the law wasn't created with wide-ranging school support. If politicians passed NCLB to help school districts shape up, then I'm not sure having superintendents criticize the law would change their minds.
However, a more dangerous form of rebellion is brewing. At least three U.S. districts have rejected federal Title I funds to avoid meeting NCLB's requirements. This is not a viable budgetary option for many districts, but foregoing money is a much stronger statement than railing against a law on a questionnaire. In addition, three Vermont districts are trying a variation on this theme; by moving federal money around, they hope to have some schools avoid NCLB requirements.
The second main criticism comes from just one person. Presidential candidate Howard Dean has badmouthed the law almost since he started running for president, telling groups that he'll "dismantle" the law if elected. Seen as the Democratic favorite, his drumbeat like criticism is starting to be heard by a larger audience.
The Department of Education has surely noticed. With Dean practically taking up residence in Iowa, the DOE decided to hold four town-hall style meetings about the law in that state this November. The department has also started a Spanish-language media campaign designed to help explain the law to Hispanic parents nationwide.
While all this dissent and defending certainly makes for good copy, I believe the law's fate really rests in the hands of the voters. At best, I think a majority of parents support the broad outline of the act, but don't know many of the law's specifics. As these specifics are spelled out, whether by politicians and local superintendents or the DOE itself, their opinion will determine the law's real fate.
Wayne D'Orio, Editorial Director