THE fate of a landmark education law will depend on the willingness to change it. The No Child Left Behind Act is due to expire in September and unless consensus can be reached between politicians, educators, and the public on its strengths and weaknesses, the law could be in limbo.
NCLB was signed into law by President Bush five years ago in a high-profile show of bipartisanship with Congress. It was heralded as a vehicle to boost academic achievement in K-12 public education in the United States. Schools that failed to meet academic standards over time were penalized.
The goal was to force schools to become more accountable, for all children to be proficient in reading, math, and science by 2014, and to show continued improvement through high-stakes tests. The intentions of NCLB may have been laudable but its uneven implementation across the country revealed inherent flaws.
A common complaint of school districts across the nation is that the law lacks consistency from state to state. What is proficient in one state may be a failing grade in another.
Testing is a big part of NCLB. Some teachers say it has indeed helped to raise the academic bar in schools. Others lament that their jobs have been reduced to little more than preparing kids to take state tests.
Final test scores are all-important. Jobs, funding, even continued operation are contingent on how well a school performs on the pressure-packed exams. School officials argue the law is inflexible and the Forum on Educational Accountability urges reliance on multiple measures - instead of one test - to gauge a school's academic progress.
Plenty of educators also take issue with what is widely regarded as inadequate funding of the means to carry out the law's requirements.
To meet NCLB mandates for student achievements in math and reading, districts are forced to spend less time on subjects like science, social studies, art, and music. Many schools have eliminated physical education and recess to maximize class time.
Polls indicate strong public support for reauthorizing NCLB, but a majority believe the law must be changed, starting with greater uniformity throughout all of the nation's schools.
The purpose of the law to spur school improvement throughout the country is a good one. It can be better with added flexibility and funding.
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