According to a new report by the Public Education Network (PEN), Open to the Public: Speaking Out on No Child Left Behind, Americans generally support the No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) objectives, but say that they lack useful information about school performance and improvement. In addition, they say that efforts to get involved in schools are regularly rebuffed by school officials. Such lapses, the report argues, threaten to erode support for the law.
“Although the law mentions parent and community involvement more than three hundred times, the most dramatic shift in federal education policy is shutting out many of the nation’s parents and citizens from effective involvement with their schools,” said Wendy D. Puriefoy, president of PEN. “Rather than bringing Americans closer to their public schools, implementation of the law is making more Americans mistrust them.”
In a letter to President Bush, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and key leaders in Congress, PEN cited these and other concerns about NCLB and asked for greater enforcement of the law’s information requirements and parental involvement provisions. It went on to note:
Currently, children, their schools, and school districts are accountable for meeting annual targets for student performance. The states, which set the targets and establish the NCLB structure, face no consequences when large numbers of students fail to meet these targets. Penalties should be imposed upon states, parallel to those imposed upon school districts, when insufficient numbers of children within the state meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. These should include the designation of states as “in need of improvement” or “in corrective action” with the concomitant assistance and sanctions described in NCLB.
PEN also suggested that schools should be rewarded for making AYP and not just punished when that goal is not achieved. It cited instances of immigrant students being pushed out of school and curriculum being narrowed to focus on test prep at the expenses of other subjects.1“To reduce these incidents,” PEN said in its letter, “schools should receive AYP ‘credit’ for making significant progress toward proficiency targets, as well as crossing over the bar.”
In its discussions with the public, PEN also found that while parents of children in low-performing schools “desperately” want improvement, they would prefer the option of receiving supplemental services before the option of transferring their child to another school. The report noted that the choice option was not working-not only because parents value neighborhood schools, but also because there are so few extra spots in higher-performing schools.
Participants also voiced concern about lowered performance standards, teacher quality, and insufficient funding, and worry that a single annual test could not determine progress either in an individual or a school.
PEN’s findings were the result of a series of public hearings held over the last nine months in eight states-Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, New York, and Illinois-that were attended by hundreds of people, as well as from more than twelve thousand responses to an online survey.
The complete report and supplemental materials are available athttp://www.publiceducation.org/portals/nclb/hearings/national/Open_to_the_Public.asp.