While it started slowly and quietly, the nationwide revolt against the federal No Child Left Behind Act continues to grow and intensify, according to a 2005 report from NCLBgrassroots.org. The U.S. Department of Education disputes the report's findings. Included: Information about how some states are challenging NCLB.
Revolt against the federal No Child Left Behind Act has broken out in 47 of the 50 states and opposition is expected to grow in numbers and volume, according to "NCLB Left Behind: Understanding the Growing Grassroots Rebellion Against a Controversial Law", a report released in 2005 by NCLBgrassroots.org.
..."There are clear signs of an unprecedented bipartisan revolution afoot," according to the report. "Mounting opposition to NCLB is coming from all quarters. Those responsible for implementing NCLB at the local level -- administrators, teachers, parents, school boards -- are skeptical that NCLB's rigid approach will help close the achievement gap, fearing that the law may in fact hamper promising approaches begun before NCLB"
Calling it an attempt to make a grassroots movement more public, the authors of the report, joined by lawmakers and state and school officials, discussed their findings in a telephone press conference August 17, 2005. NCLBgrassroots.org is a project of the nonprofit Civil Society Institute.
The report names three states that are in "full revolt" against NCLB: Connecticut, Colorado, and Utah. Minnesota, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia were considered the states most likely to move to open rebellion this school year.
UNFUNDED, STIFLING MANDATE
Among the top concerns of NCLB critics are the cost of implementing the policies, the degree to which NCLB has narrowed curriculum only to subjects that are being tested, the insistence on standardized testing as the only way to measure student progress, and the intrusion of the federal government into an area that both the U.S. Constitution and tradition have left to the jurisdiction of the states.
"I have grave concern that the education system will not be benefited under the deadening hand of bureaucracy," said Margaret Dayton, a Utah state representative. Utah's legislature passed a bill giving state education law priority over NCLB, even though the decision could cost the state more than $76 million in federal funding. Colorado also allows local districts to opt out of NCLB without incurring penalties from the state, according to the report.
Another full-revolt state, Connecticut, has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education opposing Connecticut's participation in NCLB. Connecticut officials are arguing that NCLB is an illegal unfunded mandate and would interfere with the state's established testing program. During a study of the cost of implementing the law at the state and local levels conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Connecticut officials determined that full implementation of NCLB will cost the state $41.6 million more than the state receives from the federal government through fiscal year 2008, the report states.
"The goals and objectives of the law are very laudable, but the implementation has been faulty," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said during the press conference. "Our hope is federal government will heed our message and show some flexibility or provide some funding
"Our lawsuit will be filed before our children start school -- before we spend one penny on illegal unfunded federal mandates," Blumenthal continued. "Millions of dollars are at stake in Connecticut alone. Along with taxpayers, the real victims are our children, whose education is robbed of critical resources."
STUDENTS PAY THE PRICE
Laredo (Texas) Independent School District assistant superintendent of schools Sylvia Bruni noted that Texas has been using high-stakes tests for more than 20 years, and she does not see that as the way to improve education.
"What has happened is that Texas curriculum focuses on drilling on low level skills," Bruni said. "We've seen what it has done to us. We want to do everything we can to stop this from becoming a national epidemic."
Lisa Schiff, board president of Parents for Public Schools, added that many parents think NCLB is reducing educational options for children, as many schools cut back on electives to make more time for basic subject. Parents also object to the access to high school students the law gives to military recruiters.
"No Child Left Behind, with its singular focus on standardized test scores and open-door approach for military recruiters, does not provide the educational opportunities we as parents want for our children," Schiff said. "Instead of becoming merely excellent test-takers, we want our children to be strong, independent thinkers, who are exposed to a variety of subjects and ways of considering experiences."
ON THE OTHER HAND
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, though, disputed the idea that states are rebelling against the law and that NCLB is not effective. "It is unfortunate that some appear to think that reform is more trouble than it's worth and are not acting in the best interest of America's children," said the spokeswoman, Samara Yudof. "What is really happening is a revolution of accountability and high standards across the nation. Nearly every state is working hard to help all students achieve. No Child Left Behind is working -- evidence from both the Nation's Report Card and the states' own data prove it."
One reporter questioned the panelists about calling NCLB an unfunded mandate, when the federal government maintains that federal spending on education under NCLB has increased, as has student performance.
While the federal education budget has grown, it has not increased nearly enough to cover the cost of NCLB mandates, according to Blumenthal. Unfunded mandates like those in NCLB lead to cuts in other programs, added Civil Society Institute president Pam Solo.
As for student achievement, there were signs of improvement before NCLB was passed, Blumenthal said.
Several speakers said they are choosing to challenge the law because simply rejecting federal money to avoid NCLB requirements is not fair to the states or the states' students.
"Those are funds that our children need," Blumenthal said. "The cuts would come in programs unrelated to NCLB. It would be the worst of all possible worlds to reject those funds. We have tried repeatedly to reach a reasonable and rational resolution to these issues."
Federal funding supports programs besides Title I, added Dayton.
States also cannot afford to turn their backs on money because of disagreements over aspects of the law, Bruni said.
"I can't begin to imagine giving up one dollar that children need," she said. "The best thing to do is fight."