Wednesday, April 20, 2005

How the lawsuit might just save NCLB

No Child Left Behind is in serious trouble. Supporters of the law will dismiss the NEA lawsuit and the actions of the Utah Legislature this week as all politics and no substance. But they're wrong.

According to the NYT:

... [L]aw professors said the plaintiffs would need only to prove that the law is even modestly underfinanced in order to prevail, because of the clarity of Section 9527 of the federal law, which was written by Republican lawmakers during the Clinton administration.

"Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the federal government," that section says, "to mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act."

Look, let's face it: the goal of the law (conspiracy theories aside) is an admirable one. All students can -- and should -- be literate and numerate. African-Americans, Hispanics, bilingual students, special ed students, white students -- everybody -- will perform to a basic minimum standard. Yes, there's an overreliance on test but until someone comes up with a more reliable way to measure, we're stuck with them.

Bottom line: for too long-- by any measurement -- the education establishment has failed too many

But why did they fail? Were they lazy? Incompetent? Uncaring? I doubt it. Many believe -- though few will say -- that teachers are too blame. I disagree. So far, as a society, we have lacked the will to get it done. Period.

But NCLB represents a step in the right direction (albeit a very clumsy, inelegant, and abysmally executed step). The next step would be a massive infusion of cash. How can anybody not understand this? It's basic economics: you get what you pay for! To this point, we've put out expenditures sufficient to build a shack and told our teachers they failed because they didn't build a mansion.

Many times in the past, Jenny D. has challenged me: "How much is enough?" It's an excellent question and one that I'm studying in earnest right now. In Texas, the Legislature commissioned -- at no small expense -- an adequacy study. A team of researchers from Texas A & M (I'll spare you the Aggie jokes) recommended funding levels to achieve a 55% passing rate. Their formula was based on mountains of data from the Texas Education Agency and used rigorous, scientific data analysis. They determined dollar levels for different geographic areas and for different populations. The Legislature promptly ignored their findings, preferring instead to avoid raising taxes.

This is not hard to put into words. Put simply: This is our generation's great challenge. Every child will succeed, thrive, and be prepared for the complexities of the 21st century. It's not just political hyperbole; we can really do this.

President Bush has rightly put this challenge to the country. But unlike other presidents who challenged the nation (think Kennedy and the space race), Bush has issued the challenge but failed to write the check. The lawsuit filed yesterday might force him to do just that.


Blogger Mike in Texas said...

The study was a joke as Kent Grusendorf, chair of the House committee on Education and the group that paid for the study, told them what conclusion to reach before they started.

4:22 AM  

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