Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The NEA Supports Substantial Overhaul, Not Repeal, of NCLB; the NEA Agrees That NCLB Is Flawed but Believes It Can Be Salvaged. Mr. Packer Outlines the Positive Changes That Would Retain the Law's Original Good Intentions but Correct the Strategies That Have Proved to Be Unworkable

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The NEA Supports Substantial Overhaul, Not Repeal, of NCLB; the NEA Agrees That NCLB Is Flawed but Believes It Can Be Salvaged. Mr. Packer Outlines the Positive Changes That Would Retain the Law's Original Good Intentions but Correct the Strategies That Have Proved to Be Unworkable

Article excerpt

THE National Education Association (NEA) has been asked whether we endorse the petition (see page 273) being circulated by the Educator Roundtable that calls on members of the U.S. Congress to vote against reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

The short answer? Absolutely not.

While the initiators of the petition are well meaning and share many of the same concerns the NEA has about NCLB, the petition does not represent our views. For example, it calls for the dismantling of NCLB and does not propose any positive changes or alternatives, such as those articulated in our own document, ESEA: It's Time for a Change: NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization.

The NEA agrees with many of the 16 reasons articulated in the petition that argue why the law cannot be salvaged. However, the association disagrees with the petition's conclusion--that NCLB should be repealed. Instead, we believe that several substantive changes that overhaul the statute would produce a far better result.

In addition, there is no chance that Congress will repeal NCLB. Those who do not articulate a positive set of changes to the law will simply not be at the table in negotiating any improvements to it. Furthermore, NCLB is the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), so it's not clear what repealing NCLB would actually mean. Eliminating ESEA and its important programs such as Title I? Reverting back to the 1994 version of ESEA, which would eliminate key provisions added in 2002, such as strengthened rights for homeless children? Or eliminating the law's negative features, such as adequate yearly progress (AYP) and the annual testing provisions?

Among the positive provisions mandated by NCLB is the disaggregation of student data. That requirement alone has highlighted deficiencies in educational opportunities for several groups of students. In addition, NCLB has good intentions--closing achievement gaps between various groups of students, raising overall student achievement (at least as measured on statewide tests in reading and math), and ensuring that all students have highly qualified teachers. However, the NEA has long argued that the law's good intentions have gone seriously awry. While Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has said that NCLB is "like Ivory Soap; it's 99.9% pure or something ... there's not much needed in the way of change," the reality is that it is not working.

Among its myriad flaws and negative outcomes are a narrowing of curricula and the projection that virtually all schools will eventually fail to meet its one-size-fits all, all-or-nothing AYP mandate. There is also little evidence that NCLB has directly contributed to its own major goal--raising student test scores.

In addition, the law has significant flaws in how it tests and "counts" the test scores earned by both English-language learners and students with disabilities. And its regimen of consequences, sanctions, and punishments has no research base and has not been shown to help close achievement gaps. Finally, NCLB is seriously underfunded--with the cumulative shortfall between the amounts actually appropriated and the amounts authorized in the law exceeding $56 billion over six years.

The NEA is not alone in calling for fundamental changes in the law. A coalition of more than 129 national groups--including the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the Children's Defense Fund, the National PTA, the National Council of Churches, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators--has called for 14 changes to the law, noting that "the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."(1)

Let's take a look at some of these flaws and failures in more depth. …

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