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Society and Community:
American Schools in Crisis?
More on This Story:
Debating No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was designed to improve education and achievement in America's schools, in four clearly defined ways: accountability for results; an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research; expanded parental options; and expanded local control and flexibility. But under those new strict guidelines, many educators complain that schools will suffer unfairly by being labeled as failing when they are really not. How are these new measures going to change the way our educational system is run? Below are highlights from each of the four cornerstones of the plan, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, along with feedback from educators.


"Under the act's accountability provisions, states must describe how they will close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency…. Schools that do not make progress must provide supplemental services, such as free tutoring or after-school assistance; take corrective actions; and, if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run."

Robert L. Linn, a University of Colorado professor and co-director of the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, was quoted in the NEW YORK TIMES: "Nobody can argue against No Child Left Behind, because how can you say that you should leave some children behind? But it is also nuts to say that it is possible to bring everybody to the same level. You can say that your goal is to have everyone run a mile in under five minutes, but do you really believe that it can be accomplished? I don't."

However, the newsletter NCLB Extra Credit vouches for the strength of the program: "To quote one school superintendent in Colorado, whose district produces all kinds of Merit Scholars, and whose students score in the 95th percentile on average, 'We have a very strong accountability system with our local community....' After all, his schools' performance is already being assessed by a couple of different programs. 'Do I really need a third one from the federal government?' he asks.

"Yes, he does, if he's leaving too many kids behind. No matter how well the others do. It's as simple, and as challenging, as that. Let's stop fooling ourselves. Unless we educate all, all will be dragged down by those we fail to nurture."

Proven Methods

"No Child Left Behind puts special emphasis on determining what educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding is targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that work to improve student learning and achievement."

In April 2003, former teacher, principal and superintendent Jamie McKenzie charged in "Fuzzy Math, Fuzzy Reading, and Fuzzy Science": "NCLB narrows educational choices and strategies by creating an artificial test of scientific reliability that does not belong in the educational environment and does not even work very well in the field of medicine."

Choices for Parents

"Parents with children in schools that do not meet state standards for at least two consecutive years may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district. If they do so, the district must provide transportation, using Title I funds if necessary. Students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least three years are eligible to receive supplemental educational services, including tutoring, after-school services, and summer school."

The Education Commission of the States provides a list of Pros & Cons on the school choice issue, citing advocates as believing that "Depending on how school choice programs are designed, they can level the playing field by giving low-income or minority students access to a high-quality education otherwise unobtainable." Meanwhile, opponents fear "School choice programs that force public schools to compete in the open marketplace reduce the importance of the civic and socializing missions of education that train students in citizenship and democratic principles. School is transformed into a commodity, and parents attempt to consume the best education product possible in the form of high-quality schools."

More Local Freedom

"Under No Child Left Behind, states and school districts have unprecedented flexibility in how they use federal education funds, in exchange for greater accountability for results."

William J. Mathis, superintendent of schools in Brandon, VT, fears that the federal government is asking too much and giving too little as he explains in PHI DELTA KAPPAN: "The federal Administration has asked for an increase of $1 billion in Title I, but we need at least $84.5 billion if we are to make a realistic effort to leave no child behind. The states, currently wallowing in deficits totaling $58 billion, will be legally forced to take on these added burdens, but they lack the capability."

Meanwhile, in a testimony to the Heritage Foundation, Krista Kafer quoted other statistics, arguing that "Since the law’s enactment, Congress has sent $771.5 million to states to design and implement their annual testing programs, and President Bush has asked an additional $390 million for next year. Two recent studies suggest this will be more than adequate. A 2002 study conducted by Accountability Works found that the annual cost increase for the 50 states to implement new tests will be between $312 million and $388 million. A GAO study completed this May estimates that the new tests will cost $1.9 billion between 2002 and 2008. That is less than the funding ceiling set in the NCLB."

Further Resources:
The Center on Education Policy released its study, "Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: A First Look Inside 15 School Districts in 2002–03," based on case studies of 15 school districts completed as of September 2003. The report "highlights the problems arising with implementation and the strategies used to tackle these problems." Some other organizations working in education policy are listed below:

The Center for Education Reform
The goal fo the Center for Education Reform (CER) is to provide citizens and legislators with the tools necessary to implement change. From programs for Charter Schools to School Choice, from curriculum reform to increased accountability, CER works for improved education in America.

Developing Educational Standards
This site is a repository for as information about educational standards and curriculum frameworks from all sources (national, state, local, and other) on the Internet, organized both by subject area and by state.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing is an advocacy organization working to end the abuses, misuses and flaws of standardized testing and ensure that evaluation of students and workers is fair, open, and educationally sound. The FairTest site outlines the new federally mandated national testing plan for grades K-12 and offers fact sheets on many related topics.

National Education Association
The NEA is committed to advancing the cause of public education, with 2.7 million members who work at every level of education, from pre-school to university graduate programs. Founded in 1857 "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States," the NEA is focused on "restoration of public confidence in public education."

Pre-K Parents Resource Center
The Pre-K Parents Resource Center are working to ensure that every American child, regardless of income or background, has access to a high quality pre-Kindergarten education that allows him or her to enter school ready to learn, and to begin life prepared to succeed. The organization pursues its goals on multiple levels of action: through state and federal efforts to increase the quality and availability of pre-K and through nationwide campaigns. features many resources and tools including a checklist designed for parents to determine the best program for their child and a quality watch guide so parents can easily grade and gauge pre-k teachers and programs.

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