By most accounts, No Child Left Behind is widely considered a failure by lawmakers and educators alike. Its stated goal is "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education" and reach" proficiency on state academic achievement standards and assessments.
Instead, legislators and advocates complain, it is an unfunded mandate that forces educators to focus on teaching a rote set of facts for standardized testing instead of intellectually stimulating and developing young minds so they are prepared to compete in a global society. While it offers many ways to identify failure, it fails to support improved student achievement or increase teacher capacity.
Many lawmakers and education advocates argue that achievement equity will be a perpetually elusive goal without funding equity. As Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, advocates are pushing a bill to ensure local and state governments distribute school resources equitably.
"A really vulnerable point in NCLB is that it basically put in an accountability model that demanded all kinds of performance from schools but no mechanisms to build up capacity," says Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University's Teachers College. "This last year shows that this business model doesn't work in education if you're struggling with inadequate resources. You can be beat over the head but it won't get results and that's really what we're talking about."
According to The Education Trust, schools in poor districts tend to employ teachers with less experience and fewer advanced degrees. Better-educated, more experienced teachers gravitate to more affluent schools where the resources are plentiful.
It is not unusual to find significant funding gaps between schools in the same district. A report by The Education Trust noted that during the 2007-08 school year, the state and local per-pupil expenditure at P.S. 251, a Brooklyn, N.Y., school with a predominantly Black student enrollment, was $1,983 less than the average in New York's low-poverty schools.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) has introduced the ESEA Fiscal Fairness Act, which seeks to ensure all schools get an equal share of state and local resources.
"In every state in the nation, poor children are receiving less of everything that we know they need to get a quality education and getting less than schools in their districts and in wealthy suburban districts in their states," Fattah says. "Under Title I, the federal money districts receive is supposed to be a supplement to an already equal playing field. Instead, around the country it's being used as a substitute for local funds. …