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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Hear it in Court

Criticism just keeps coming for No Child Left Behind. The nation's largest professional employee organization, the National Education Association, is joining the malcontents nationwide, including governors, top school leaders and school boards. NEA plans to sue the federal government for allegedly forcing an unfunded mandate down state and local officials' throats, officials say.

The basis for the lawsuit would be a provision in NCLB that says, in part, that "nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the federal government to ... mandate a state ... to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act."

The NEA is "all for accountability and high standards" but it takes money, says Daniel Kaufman, NEA spokesman.

Estimates show that states will have to pay between $1.9 billion and $5.3 billion between 2002 and 2008 just to meet the testing provisions in the law. These estimates do not include how much it would cost to meet requirements for highly qualified teachers or school-choice provisions, Kaufman says.

"If you're going to force the states to do this, you, as the federal government, need to put up the money to pay for it," Kaufman says. "We should be able to hold politicians accountable if you are holding teachers and students accountable."

Kaufman says the federal government's share in funding the new law is about $11 billion short of the funding level authorized by the president and Congress.

Every State Accountable

Every state now has new accountability plans explaining how they will meet the federal demands to make each child a proficient learner by 2014.

"It's been interesting to see how differently district administrators have been responding to the challenges," says Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, a non-partisan group. "Some are quick to say, 'It's unrealistic.' And others have really appealed to the idea that education is a calling."

While some states lowered their standards to meet the federal demands, having lower standards short-changes the children, experts say. In states with low standards, "they're telling the students and families, 'You're fine.' But when you get into the world, the skills and knowledge [they have doesn't] serve them well. That's where the fairness of standards comes out," Wiener says.

The approved accountability plans differ regarding annual yearly progress. Some states require that in schools where students don't make AYP in the same subject for two consecutive years, they will be marked as 'in need of improvement.' Some states require that if students don't make progress either in math or reading over two years, then the school is in need of improvement, Wiener says.

Some states want to hold off on students gaining academic proficiency until 2010, says Terri Schwartzbeck, policy analyst at the American Association of School Administrators. The most common reasons to wait? Change takes time.

Irving (Texas) Independent School District

It's About the Parents

Administrators in Irving (Texas) Independent School District give laptops to all students in grades 9-12. As they consider more technology for middle school students, it's clear that parents must be part of the process.

This is especially important in a community where 4,700 students are first-year immigrants, most of whom are non-English speaking, and 275 are migrants, out of a total 31,000-student population.

"As we give more and more technology to students we want to pair that with increasing technological literacy with everyone in the family," says Judy Rudebusch, division director for special services. This is "so parents can be involved in their child's schooling through technology. The spirit of it comes from No Child Left Behind."

A community network grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, a Texas state agency, is closing the digital divide, putting computers into homes of poor families and making computers accessible throughout the community.

The district set up classes and home visits to guide parents around computers. The district also set up a Saturday Parent Academy in May for students and their parents. Title III, or the Language Acquisition section of NCLB, funded the day to focus on what parents needed to know. The parents, many of whom are immigrants, learned about how high school credits transfer from schools, as well as how to vote and become a U.S. citizen. More than 400 parents and children attended.

"No Child really did heighten parents' involvement not only in education but in planning education services," Rudebusch says. "I think that is a really nice part of No Child Left Behind."