Monday, November 22, 2004

Effort to fix NCLB probably won't come from Dems

When Rep. George Miller (D-CA) appeared on PBS's Newshour last week (on the day Margaret Spellings was nominated by the President for Secretary of Education), he enthusiastically supported No Child Left Behind. Miller is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Yet there are serious problems with No Child Left Behind. Few would deny this. So the question becomes: Who will challenge Bush, Spellings, and Co. to fix the problems? My prediction: Republicans.

We've seen this week that Republicans are tired of being Bush's lapdogs. They played that role in '04 for obvious reasons. Now they're playing hardball. Sensenbrenner and Hunter stood up to the President on the Intelligence bill; will anyone do the same -- since Miller seemed to signal last week that Democrats won't -- from the Republican side of the aisle on NCLB?

The problems are clear: The testing regime is too rigid, too severe, and, quite simply, too much. There's nothing wrong with testing to ensure that children are gaining valuable skills in reading and math. But testing every year -- with tests that teachers are very familiar with -- encourages teaching to the test and a dangerous narrowing of curriculum.

And the provisions of NCLB that require every subgroup (African-American, Hispanic, Low English Proficiency, etc.) to pass all of the tests actually makes it easier for schools without these populations (i.e., suburban schools) and discriminates against schools that have them (i.e., urban schools).

And the provisions that require "a qualified teacher in every classroom" hurt rural schools. The list could go on forever.

So what's to be done? First of all, keep standardized tests. Yes, that's right: don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don't nix accountability. But change the tests every year so that teachers don't know what exactly will be on them and can't teach to the test. And don't be so quick to punish. Two years is not enough time to fix deep systemic problems. Also, loosen up the provisions that hurt urban and rural schools.

These things can be done if there is principled opposition. Since Democrats under the leadership of Miller have abandoned that mantle, it now must shift to the Republicans who no longer feel duty bound to support the President on whatever he wants now that the election is over.

I'll be following any dissent in the ranks very closely in the coming weeks and months and, of course, reporting it here.

Oh, and in fairness, Miller didn't completely support NCLB. He did express reservations about NCLB's funding. He also suggested that there would be a fight against expanding NCLB to high schools until the funding originally promised by the Administration is provided. For the full transcript of Miller (and Professor Diane Ravitch) last week on the Newshour, click here.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

Close, but I think you've overstated your case against NCLB.

12:10 PM  

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