January 8 marked the two-year anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Depending on which report one reads, the public’s awareness of NCLB is either quite high (87 percent-Americans for Better Education poll) or still relatively low (58 percent-National Education Association poll). In both cases, most of the general public appears to be supportive of the law and in favor of greater funding for NCLB from the federal government.
Appearing at an elementary school in Tennessee, President Bush stressed the gains that students around the country have made in reading and math scores. He specifically mentioned higher eighth-grade math scores and fourth-grade reading scores, but also took a moment to paint the importance of NCLB in the historical context of education reform:
It is legislation which I would call historic, because for the first time, the federal government is spending more money, and now asking for results. See, in the past it used to be we would send a check and hope something happened. And now the federal government is sending checks, at record amounts, I might add, for Title I students and teacher training and reading programs. But we’re now saying, listen, we trust you. We trust . . . teachers to accomplish a mission; why don’t you just show us that you are.
For U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, the anniversary seemed to resonate on a more personal level. In an address at the American Enterprise Institute, he spoke about his upbringing amidst segregation in Mississippi, his limited options to get a higher education, and widespread violence against minorities. His speech drew parallels between the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, the two-tiered education system that still exists in our nation, and the role of NCLB in ensuring that every child gets a world-class education.
The No Child Left Behind Act is the next logical step to Brown. It addresses the latent segregation, de facto apartheid, that’s emerging in some of our educational settings. Like Brown, No Child Left Behind faced resistance. But if we have the will this law will have a powerful and healing impact on our society. . . this country does not yet provide equal opportunities for millions of children. That is why the No Child Left Behind Act is so important. After 50 years we still have a lot of work to do.
Secretary Paige also took the opportunity to strike back against some of NCLB‘s critics, using the Brown decision as a benchmark:
Because of the powerful sweep of this change, this revolution, there are some who resist it. And that’s to be expected. The resistance to Brown was massive. It took decades and we’re still moving forward. And so the resistance to the No Child Left Behind Act is to be expected. But those who fought Brown were on the wrong side of history. Just like those who fight No Child Left Behind will be judged so.
Read the complete speech at: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2004/01/01072004.html
Democrats Express Frustration with Underfunding and NCLB Implementation Issues
In a letter to Secretary Paige, the two leading Democratic negotiators of the No Child Left Behind Act, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) andU.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), were joined by the Democratic members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), in outlining what they saw as the unrealized potential of NCLB. In addition to noting a $7.5 billion funding shortfall, the letter expressed disappointment with the delay by the U.S. Department of Education in releasing regulations and guidance for the act. It also listed concerns with key policy areas including the unfulfilled promise of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and it took the administration to task for allowing schools to “claim academic progress and increasing test scores while ignoring high dropout rates.”
In a separate statement, Sen. Kennedy stressed that NCLB was a good piece of legislation that has largely gotten a bad rap because of poor implementation and lack of funding:
The No Child Left Behind Act is still the right reform for our schools, requiring higher standards, better teachers, and real accountability for schools for the performance of all children. But in the two years since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, the Bush Administration has cut its funding, reneged on promised resources for better teachers and smaller classes, and worked to divert millions of dollars to private school vouchers. . . While President Bush deserves an “A grade” for helping a bipartisan Congress shepherd a solid school reform plan into law, his follow through gets a “D minus” mark. It’s way too soon for the “Mission Accomplished” banner on No Child Left Behind.
The complete letter from Senate HELP Committee Democrats and Rep. George Miller is available at:http://edworkforce.house.gov/democrats/paigenclbletter.html
Polling Data Reveals a Generally Supportive Public
According to recent polling data from the National Education Association (NEA), the American public is generally supportive of the No Child Left Behind Act. The poll found that, after hearing a description of NCLB’s goals, 55 percent of participants believe the law will have a positive impact while 37 percent believe the impact will be negative. However, the poll also found that 63 percent of voters believe the federal government should increase funding for public schools, while only 7 percent support a decrease in federal education funding.
A poll by Americans for Better Education found that 54 percent of the American public has a
favorable impression of NCLB, compared to 23 percent unfavorable. The survey also asked participants what they thought was the most important factor in improving the quality of education in America’s schools. Smaller class size was the factor most respondents chose (37 percent), followed by teacher training and testing (33 percent), higher teacher pay (26 percent), higher academic standards (25 percent), and increasing funding for schools (20 percent).
The complete NEA poll results are available at: http://www.nea.org/esea/bipartisanpoll.html
The complete results from the Americans for Better Education poll are available at: http://www.bettered.org/1081/media/ABE_Survey_2004.doc(Microsoft Word document)
Superintendents and Principals Weigh In on NCLB
Public Agenda surveyed principals and superintendents from across the country and found that school leaders strongly support standards and accountability, but they have “complicated, ambivalent feelings” about the No Child Left Behind Act. According to Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What’s Needed to Fix Public Schools, 93 percent of superintendents and 88 percent of principals say their district has experienced “an enormous increase in responsibilities and mandates without getting the resources necessary to fulfill them.” Almost all school leaders took issue with a lack of funding, with 89 percent of superintendents and 88 percent of principals calling the law an “unfunded mandate.”
Despite these concerns, superintendents and principals admit that NCLB has brought about positive changes in their schools. For example, 83 percent of superintendents and 75 percent of principals report they are “more focused on curriculum, teaching, mentoring and professional development than ever before.” They also report that their districts have been making real efforts to close the achievement gap between minority and white students.
Rolling Up Their Sleeves is available at: http://www.publicagenda.org/research/research_reports_details.cfm?list=9