Thursday, April 21, 2005

NCLB and then some...

The National Education Association and eight school districts in Texas, Michigan, and Vermont are suing the Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act. The NEA decries that the DEA violated a provision in the law that states cannot be forced to spend their own money to meet federal requirements (NYTimes). Additionally, Connecticut's Attorney General and Utah's republican-dominated state legislature are threatening legal action on the same terms.

The act orders that students in every demographic must score higher on standardized testing than the previous year in order to ensure funding to the school district. If the school fail to meet the standards, they face sanctions such as school closure and loss of funding.

Early critics on the law found standardized testing to be a useful tool in determining the effectiveness of school districts, but found its punitive provisions to be not useful in ameliorating the problems of poor-performing districts. Detractors also found that federal money towards the districts was inadequate for enhancing performance, and that decisions over how to deal with the delinquent districts should be left to local authorities. It seems that all these criticisms are now assimilating into a joint legal action among states.

The DEA asserts that the Bush Administration is spending more on education than previous administrations, citing four studies that find the law to be accurately funded.

Concerned districts still persist that passing standardized tests is a major problem. Perhaps a solution would evaluate said tests' ability to measure academic achievement. For comparison, many studies have found standardized tests such as the SAT and GRE to be ineffective at measuring intelligence and academic proficiency. Tweaking the standardized tests may make them more effective.

Another problem is that federal standards may be inapplicable to local districts. Perhaps it would be better to have individual states create there own tests. That way, states with differing standards and demographics could administer more relevant testing.

Cutting funding to failing school districts is another provision that makes little sense. An inner-city school that handles at-risk children likely need more support than less. The No Child Left Behind Act would drain such schools of further resources to improve and advance social mobility.

The debate over the No Child Left Behind Act is a complex one. It's a pity that Congress has not had a more serious debate over its effectiveness, or lack thereof. Until now, it's been partisan bickering about who is a greater supporter of educational accountability. Educational accountability as a goal is understood. How we proceed from there should be reviewed.

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