Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

NCLB and Scientifically-Based Research: Opportunities Lost and Found

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

NCLB and Scientifically-Based Research: Opportunities Lost and Found

Article excerpt

In fall 2006, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and President George W. Bush, while stumping for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), asserted, "It is working, and it is here to stay" (The White House, 2006). Though we find claims of its effectiveness premature, NCLB and the subsequent and less-noticed Education Sciences Reform Act (ESR) are without question changing the landscape of public education. Since their adoption in 2002, many of the laws' provisions have been implemented. For example, high-stakes testing and reporting systems to determine "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) are in place in all states. Indeed, as this editorial goes to press, headlines about schools not demonstrating AYP abound. Policies establishing criteria for "highly qualified teachers" (HQT) have been adopted, although wide variation exists across the states, particularly for veteran teachers. "Scientifically-based research" has become the stamp of approval for curriculum selection and instructional practices in many of the NCLB programs, notably Title I and Reading First grants. And the Education Sciences Reform Act supports the newly created Institute for Educational Sciences (IES), which is a major source of funding for educational research and is overseeing contracts to overhaul the ERIC Clearinghouse into the What Works Clearinghouse. Some flexibility will undoubtedly be introduced in the reauthorization of NCLB. Regardless of changes enacted, however, we expect that the specifics of NCLB, and the broader theme of accountability to close the "achievement gap," will continue to dominate education conversations in the years ahead.

Initial scholarly responses to NCLB offered both critical analyses and defenses of the assumptions and research base underlying the laws (e.g., Carlson & Levin, 2005; Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002; Elmore, 2002; Hess & Finn, 2004; Linn, 2003; Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 2003). At the law's five-year mark, analyses describe evidence of its uneven effectiveness. For example, while district test scores are improving, NAEP scores do not show any significant improvement (Bracey, 2006; Center on Education Policy, 2006). In states that have taken a tougher stance implementing AYP goals, some schools have failed to make AYP for the second or third year, thus triggering NCLB sanctions that culminate in restructuring, despite rating in the top categories on state accountability measures. These multiple accountability systems have left the general public confused about the quality of their local schools (Dillon, 2006). Though the 2005-2006 deadline for teachers to meet HQT has been extended, most states report they are on track to meet these requirements. However, the wide variation in how states define teacher quality frequently dilutes the purpose of this provision (Henig, 2006). There is widespread skepticism among state and district officials that the teacher requirements are improving the quality of teaching (Center on Education Policy, 2006). And much needed empirical analyses of the effects of NCLB on students and teachers are just beginning to emerge (e.g., Center for Education Policy, 2006; Fuller, 2006; Lee, 2006).

In 2007, with or without strong empirical evidence of its effectiveness, NCLB is very likely to be reauthorized. It passed in 2002 with broad bipartisan support. Even with changes in the legislature after the 2006 midterm elections, NCLB's lofty and worthy aims--its commitment to assuring all children achieve at a high level and its strong focus on accountability for results--will likely prevail. However, further analysis and discussion of NCLB are needed. We view this critical juncture as a time for teacher educators to participate more actively in current conversations about a number of important and highly contested questions regarding the way NCLB and ESR are shaping K-12 classroom practice, teachers' lives, and the work of teacher education. Here, we take stock of the laws' impact on teacher education research, practice, and policy. …

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