In a marked departure from a Bush White House that celebrated every anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), neither President Obama nor U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made any public appearances to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A January 9 article in the Washington Post said that President Obama’s plan for reauthorizing the law is expected soon, but it noted that “time is growing short if Obama aims for action before midterm elections, which could weaken Democratic majorities in Congress.”
In a speech on September 24, 2009 entitled “Reauthorization of ESEA: Why We Can’t Wait,” Duncan praised NCLB for exposing achievement gaps, expanding the standards and accountability movement, and focusing on outcomes–not inputs-to measure education reform efforts. However, he also said that NCLB unfairly labels many schools as failures even when they are making real progress, adding that the current law places too much emphasis on test scores rather than student growth, and is “overly prescriptive in some ways while it is too blunt an instrument of reform in others.”
Duncan also took NCLB to task for encouraging states to set low academic standards. He cited the failure to set high standards as one reason why millions of students are not completing college. “They are simply not ready for college-level work when they leave high school,” he said. He also said that low standards have contributed to the nation’s “staggeringly” high dropout rate.
In a January 7 statement, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise credited NCLB for requiring schools to report data that focuses attention on educational disparities for various groups of students. However, he also said that shortcomings in the law’s design and implementation have meant that most improvements in learning outcomes for the nation’s elementary school students have not been echoed by their middle and high school counterparts.
“In many ways, NCLB is a compact disc in an iPod world,” Wise said. “It’s still around, but it is in desperate need of an upgrade. The best birthday present for this generation of America’s students is for the Congress and President Obama to enact a new ESEA. It’s time to blow out the candles and bake a new cake.”
Wise said that President Obama and Secretary Duncan have actively recognized the high school crisis, focused on turning around the lowest-performing schools, and called on the nation to graduate all students ready for college and careers while congressional leaders have held hearings and developed legislative proposals based on research and best practice that demonstrate ways to improve the law. However, he added that none of these positive changes will reach the countless high school students and teachers in classrooms until research, discussions, hearings, and legislative proposals are actually turned into an ESEA reauthorization.
“This eighth birthday should be a commitment that 2010 is the year to harness the progress and increase momentum around high school reform into a reauthorized ESEA that strategically addresses the high school crisis and begins turning the more than one million dropouts a year into high school graduates who are ready for college and careers. Today, our message to the Congress and President Obama is: ‘Don’t delay. Reauthorize ESEA.'”