Many educators have expressed concerns about the requirements and sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the National Education Association has adopted a plan to reform the law, which it wants Congress to hear. Included: Descriptions of proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The National Education Association's (NEA's) Representative Assembly in July launched a nationwide grassroots campaign to retool the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization in 2007.
According to NEA press releases, the union has built a coalition of 86 organizations to push for reform. The coalition calls for an accountability system that "relies on multiple measures of success, and rewards improvement rather than punishes already-struggling schools."
As part of its campaign, the assembly developed a list of seven qualities for great public schools. NEA's position also calls for an increase in education funding and smaller class sizes. The plan also calls for using multiple measures to assess student achievement. The delegates are encouraging NEA members to lobby Congress to support its proposed NCLB reforms.
A survey commissioned by NEA to assess member attitudes about NCLB found that NEA members view NCLB negatively and want the NEA to work to revise the law. The survey showed that NEA members believe that NCLB has not improved public education because of inadequate funding, the punitive nature of the law, and the sole reliance on standardized testing to measure student achievement, according to information from the NEA.
Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, talked with Education World about the union's proposals for reforming NCLB, and why he thinks changes are urgently needed.
Education World: Can you sum up the National Education Association's (NEA's) position on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act? Has that position changed since the law was passed in 2001?
Reg Weaver: The NEA has been a supporter of the 40-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The so-called No Child Left Behind Act is the current incarnation of the law. Our members also support the stated goals of the law -- to close the gaps in student achievement, raise overall student achievement, and ensure every child is taught by a highly qualified teacher.
But after nearly five years, our members have come to the realization that the law is fundamentally flawed and severely underfunded. NCLB falls short in providing the promised additional tools and support that educators and students need.
NEA did not oppose passage of NCLB in 2001, but had serious concerns about several of its provisions. When the law was enacted, Congress and the Bush administration promised to provide the resources necessary to meet the many mandates contained in the law. After an increase in funding the first year, funding for programs has been on the decline with most states and school districts facing unfunded mandates, real cuts in resources, and no federal funds to turn around low-performing schools. Here are some startling numbers:
EW: How does NEA think NCLB impacts education?
Weaver: NCLB is hurting education, especially with its one-size-fits-all approach. This is especially prevalent in special education. The law requires that special education children meet the same standards as children with no disabilities. More schools fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) because of low scores for special education students than any other group.
The impact doesn't stop there. Some high schools, desperate to make AYP, are pushing out low-scoring students. The extensive focus on test scores as the only measure of student progress is forcing educators to teach to the test. Many school districts have de-emphasized and, in some cases, even eliminated courses in the liberal arts, humanities, and performing arts. Our members are concerned about this trend, which is leading to the elimination of important subjects that provide students with a balanced education. Redefining the art of teaching so narrowly significantly reduces creativity and critical thinking and diminishes a child's enthusiasm and motivation to explore and to learn.
EW: How does the NEA propose to reform NCLB?
Weaver: Our members fully embrace the fundamental belief that great schools are a basic right for every child. Improving NCLB would go a long way toward making that belief a reality. That's why we have developed -- and our members have approved -- a positive agenda for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Improving the law begins with embracing the seven critical components of a great public school:
We encourage the public, elected officials and anybody who is interested in learning more about our positive agenda for public education and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization to visit No Child Left Behind Act/ESEA for more details about our proposals.
EW: Federal education officials say NCLB is a necessary tool to help close the achievement gaps. If NEA thinks NCLB is not serving that purpose, what recommendations does it have for shrinking the achievement gaps?
Weaver: Although federal education officials claim that NCLB is necessary to close the achievement gaps, the reality is that the law is not doing what it's supposed to do.
According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, "No Child Left Behind has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gaps. The racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math persist. If the current trend continues, the proficiency gap between advantaged white and disadvantaged minority students will hardly close by 2014."
As Congress looks to reauthorize the law, NEA supports the requirement that student achievement data be disaggregated by various subgroups of students based on race, poverty, disability status, and English-proficiency status. This data desegregation is critical to help classroom educators revise their instructional strategies to improve student learning.
Additional programs and resources are needed, including reducing class size -- especially in high poverty schools -- expanding professional development, and other programs that improve educator quality and providing high quality pre-K and after-school programs.
EW: What, if anything, does NEA think is missing from the current education reform movement?
Weaver: What is missing from the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a properly designed curriculum, coupled with a flexible, comprehensive and improved assessment and accountability system to strengthen America's high schools.
It is imperative that America's students leave high schools equipped with the high-level thinking, learning, and global understanding skills -- as well as the sophisticated information, communication, and technology literacy competencies -- to live and work in an increasingly interconnected 21st century global community.
High school reform should include making sure that we are measuring the relevant skills; allowing states the flexibility to design systems that produce results; using multiple measures to assess achievement; allowing the use of growth models; including commonsense flexibility for students with special needs; involving educators in planning; and effectively addressing dropout rates.
It's also important to recognize the lack of adequate funding for high schools under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Under Title I, 79 percent of funds go to elementary and pre-K programs. Indeed, only between 5 and 10 percent of all high schools receive any Title I funds. Most other ESEA programs are also targeted or limited to elementary schools. The few programs that are targeted to high schools -- such as smaller learning communities, school counselors, and dropout prevention -- are all severely underfunded and face additional funding cuts or elimination.
EW: What advice do you have for teachers who feel stifled by the NCLB mandates?
Weaver:To teachers and our members who feel stifled by the law, we say, you can make a difference -- if you get involved. The law is up for reauthorization in 2007, and it is imperative that our members let Congress know where the nation's working educators stand. We have a positive agenda and a plan. You can make a difference. Write a letter to your congressional representative or send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about what you want your elected officials to do about No Child Left Behind. Visit No Child Left Behind Act/ESEA to share your story about how the No Child Left Behind Act has affected your classroom, students or the way you teach
This e-interview with Reg Weaver is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2006 Education World