Inside The Law
Mixed Grades for NCLB On Second Anniversary
Two years after President Bush signed the landmark No Child Left Behind act, its report card is mixed. Bush and Republicans in Congress hail its success to date and promise more funding, while Democrats attack the administration for not spending enough. Some educators are raising critical questions about the law's effectiveness in improving student achievement. More than a quarter of public schools are on academic probation, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy.
NCLB is "making a difference around the country," Bush said in a January visit to the West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn. He cited a nine point increase since 2000 in fourth-grade math test scores nationally and a five point jump for eighth graders. Reading scores also are up, said Bush, who credited "accountability measures and good teachers and more funding."
Federal funding for NCLB totaled nearly $46 billion in the first two years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That represents a 34 percent increase in dollars for major elementary and secondary education programs, says Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), who saluted the act's achievements in a column in The Seattle Times. Her own state, she noted, received over $360 million last year.
But Democrats are unleashing a torrent of criticism. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) acknowledges that NCLB "is still the right reform for our schools," but charges that the Bush administration "has cut its funding, reneged on promised resources ... and worked to divert millions of dollars to private school vouchers." The president's 2004 budget provides schools with $7.5 billion less than promised and his 2005 budget "will leave over 4.6 million children behind, Kennedy says.
Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, says that NCLB punishes schools instead of rewarding the progress of individual students. Administrators should be expected to hold all students to high standards, Houston asserts, but "expecting all groups of students, including special education and English language learners, to meet the same academic targets at the same time is the equivalent of expecting a weekend cyclist to keep pace with Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France." He adds that "the arbitrary targets established in the law have resulted in nothing more than 50 different versions of the law in 50 different states."
Public Schools are Bidding Adieu to Foreign Language
The Center for Applied Linguistics and the National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center in Iowa say many public schools have been scaling back or eliminating foreign language programs.
Some foreign language education advocates blame the No Child Left Behind act for forcing districts to trim foreign language curricula for more resources to improve student performance in reading and math.
"The fact that there is so much emphasis on math and reading in our schools through No Child Left Behind leaves little time in the school day or few funds to continue to support foreign language," says Marcia Rosenbush, director of the Iowa center. "If No Child Left Behind would be fully funded, the panorama would be different."
Nancy Rhodes, director of foreign language education at the Center for Applied Linguistics, says studies indicate children who learn foreign languages have higher scores in English vocabulary.
Maria Hernandez Ferrier, deputy undersecretary and director of the U.S. DOE's Office of English Language Acquisition, defends the priorities of No Child Left Behind. "To say that schools are cutting back on foreign language because of No Child Left Behind is flawed," she adds. "Even though the mantra out there is 'unfunded mandate,' it's not true. There is $6 billion that states have not even drawn down yet and that money has been there since 2002."
Not Far Behind, But Still Striving for Proficiency
More than anything else, Mikeidra Mitchell, a sixth grader at Buchanan Elementary School in Hamilton, Ohio, likes to play football with her older brother. But in school, her favorite subject is math. Surprisingly, decimals and fractions are her biggest downfalls, her teacher says. But Mikeidra stands firm. "I understand it better" now, she said in January.
Mikeidra, 11, had A's and B's in school up until about a year ago, when work started getting harder, according to her mother, LaTrice Pew. Pew, a single parent and college student studying sports journalism, often finds Mikeidra reading her books. "I have to help her out," Pew says. "She uses big words. She wants to know definitions of things."
Now, Mikeidra is getting extra attention. Her fifth-grade Ohio Off-Year Proficiency Test last year showed she was near proficiency in writing, reading, math and science. She scored a 4 on the writing exam, while 5 was proficient. And she scored 209 in reading, when proficiency was 222. Math and science scores were 185, but proficiency was 200. This month, she is taking the sixth-grade Ohio Proficiency Test.
Classroom teacher Kathy Issenmann says Mikeidra takes awhile to grasp new concepts in math. And she has reading problems, particularly with fluency and comprehension. To help her, Mikeidra takes part in an intervention class where students are reading on a second-grade to fifth-grade level.
Volunteers from local businesses, part of an Adopt-a-School program at the school, tutor students in math 45 minutes a week. And a Title I teacher, hired to help children struggling with math and reading proficiency, works with Mikeidra for 30 minutes every day.
Integrated Learning Lab offers individualized math and reading instruction daily in computer lab, where students are exposed to tougher math problems, for example. And struggling students undergo after-school tutoring.
But Issenmann says Mikeidra has heart. "Her strength is her tenacity. She keeps plugging [away] even when she's having problems. She'll ask if she doesn't understand," Issenmann says.
Hamilton is not doing anything much different due to NCLB, which in fact, was modeled in part after Hamilton's program. But Issenmann says the law has a hole. "Yes, testing tells us how they do. But we're giving the same test to all children and we're going to leave children behind if we give the same test to all children, if we don't allow for IQ, or ability, or if we don't allow for differences. That's not fair."
She says some children do not meet proficiency in all subjects but they do improve and they do learn.
NCLB Spurs N.J. Tutoring Business
More than 200 schools in New Jersey are taking No Child Left Behind requirements seriously. NCLB requires Title I schools that fail to meet student performance goals for three consecutive years to offer the lowest performing, low-income students supplemental services through an outside provider. Almost 7,000 New Jersey students in 214 under-performing schools are enrolled in tutoring programs. Nationwide, about 8,000 schools are required by the government to offer after-school tutoring at no charge.
Title I funds pay approved, supplemental service providers up to about $1,000 for each student's tutoring. Nearly half of the more than 100 state-approved providers are public schools.
For-profit organizations offer everything from individual to large group and online instruction for students in pre-K-12 in reading, language acquisition and math.
Evaluation begins this spring. The state plans to implement a rubric that includes student assessment data as well as teacher and parent feedback to analyze providers.
Suzanne Ochse, acting director of the New Jersey Title I office, says tutoring will grow as more schools are identified as under-performing. Another 1,000 state schools may be identified next year.
Iowa Districts: Beware
The Iowa Department of Education is warning 50 public school districts and 145 schools that they must improve student academic performance or risk facing federal sanctions next fall.
Under No Child Left Behind legislation, schools that fail to make gains or don't meet other standards for two consecutive years face sanctions ranging from allowing students to transfer to requiring tutoring.
Schools on the Iowa watch list did not meet standards for one year.