The No Child Left Behind Act certainly had an ambitious goal. It mandated that all students tested in reading and math would reach grade level by the year 2014.
Six years ago, when the law was passed, almost no one believed that this standard for success was realistic. However, despite a lack of reality, the law was approved by Congress with sanctions for school systems that fail to make adequately yearly progress toward that 2014 goal, sanctions which cost millions of dollars and result in school takeovers.
However, the Act had a politically correct title and what politician could ever cast a vote that would leave a child’s education behind. So, the law was passed under a fancy heading, but with a measurement for success that was beyond the outer limit of reality.
This political rhetoric meets reality dilemma on the issue of education exists in this Election 2008 Presidential campaign. Consider that it will be up to the next Congress and the newly elected President to decide whether to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act in 2009.
So, where do the 2008 Presidential candidates stand on the reauthorization of the “No Child left Behind Act”, since one of them will be an important decision maker concerning its future after the November election in 2009? Unfortunately, their positions on the current law are high on political rhetoric but lacking in real specifics.
Republican John McCain, who voted for the original legislation, has admitted “that the law should be fixed, especially in the areas of testing students with disabilities and non-English speaking students, but the law should not be repealed.” He also has commented on the need for additional “emphasis on science and math.” Senator McCain also supports school vouchers and additional choice options.
Although McCain appears to be quite supportive of the law, Matt David, a spokesman for the Senator, says of McCain, “His support for reauthorization will depend on what amendments are made to the bill, not only what’s added to it, but also what could be taken away.” It certainly looks like the Senator from Arizona would prefer to lead from behind on the education issue.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama has not been complimentary in his comments about the law. Speaking to the National Education Association, he has called the legislation “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of America.” Specifically, he has been critical of the heavy reliance on standardized tests which “has pushed out a lot of important learning that needs to take place,” and worries that “creativity has been drained from the classroom.” Concerned also about adequate funding, Obama has suggested that “the law left money and common sense behind.”
Obama would reform the No Child Left Behind law by funding it. He would improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama would also improve the accountability system so that there is support, rather than punishment, for schools that need improvement.
It’s easy to see the political rhetoric that would appeal to Obama’s voting base, but much harder indeed to discover a detailed plan on the funding and specific reform for the current federal education law from the Democratic candidate in this election year.
Undoubtedly, the proposed changes in the law that will be necessary for its reauthorization will focus on the following controversial areas:
1. How would the legislation be changed to deal with the measurement metric known as Adequate Yearly Progress? This method of measuring student and school success has been described by many as being “too inflexible, too arbitrary, and too punitive.” It is difficult to find anyone who really believes in the current measurement objective and its timeline is thought to be unrealistic as well.
2. Everyone wants to improve teacher salaries and training. Whether this should be done with some kind of “pay for performance” plan will be subject to serious debate.
3. There are many who are calling for national curriculum standards and testing. Although it does not appear that Congress is ready for such a change, it will be debated.
4. Since the No Child Left Behind Act was never properly funded by Congress, the amount of money needed for federal education programs will certainly be an important issue for the next Congress to consider.
5. Many people have expressed concern that the mandated testing in language arts and math has caused schools to spend considerably less time and effort on other curriculum areas, as well as more time and expense preparing students to pass mandatory tests.
As a new school year begins in America this fall, the Presidential candidates should be asked the necessary questions in order to determine their specific vision of the American educational system of the future. The voters and the national media should insist that each of them propose a specific and detailed education plan.
The time has come for the Presidential candidates and Congressional politicians to come forward with creative solutions to fix or abolish the current educational system. Continued political rhetoric on the issue is simply not enough. In fact, political rhetoric has already met the outer limits of tangible reality for the 2002 landmark federal education law, known as “No Child Left Behind”.
James William Smith has worked in Senior management positions for some of the largest Financial Services firms in the United States for the last twenty five years. He has also provided business consulting support for insurance organizations and start up businesses. He has always been interested in writing and listening to different viewpoints on interesting topics. Visit his website at http://www.eworldvu.com or his daily blog at http://www.eworldvublog.blogspot.com