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Askwith Forum Considers NCLB Reauthorization

Posted: December 7, 2006

Reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) could take years and give policymakers and practitioners more time to consider possible changes to the law that may improve student achievement.

Education policy experts, who spoke at the Askwith Forum, The Political and Policy Challenges of Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, on December 4, said they don't foresee reauthorization of NCLB until 2009. NCLB, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, increased the federal government's role in public education adding requirements for accountability, high quality teachers, scientifically-based research, and school choice. It is slated for reauthorization in 2007.

The upcoming change of power in Congress and a presidential election could slow down the reauthorization, said Christopher Cross, chairman of Cross & Joftus, LLC, an education-policy consulting firm and a senior fellow with the Center for Education Policy.

It is likely that the new Congress may focus on other issues facing the country, rather than concerns surrounding the NCLB like states intervening with low-performing schools, standards, and funding earmarked for the law, he said.

NCLB generated enormous controversy across the education field in its inception. Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center for Education Policy, who has studied NCLB since 2004, said that studies show the law is having an effect—positive and negative—on schools. For instance, test scores are improving, elementary schools spend more time working on reading and math, schools pay more attention to curriculum and analyze tests, and special education students and English Language learners are no longer left behind, Jennings said. In addition, low performing schools are also undergoing makeovers—not radical restructures as many educators anticipated, Jennings said.

The NCLB has also effected the teaching profession. Jennings said teachers are complying with the law's academic qualifications and earning certifications. However, with more student testing, teachers are teaching more "common subjects," he said.

Although many of these effects are positive, Jennings pointed out some overarching concerns. While NCLB is providing schools and children more attention, there is too much weight put on testing, and a system to provide substantial help to schools that are struggling doesn't exist, he said.

Jennings agreed that the reauthorization process will likely be lengthy giving educators plenty of time to evaluate what to do next with NCLB.

"Should we trash this thing, tinker with it or transform it?" said Betty Sternberg, former commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education and current superintendent of schools in Greenwich, Conn.

While Sternberg doesn't believe in eliminating the NCLB, she said the law could use some changes. NCLB should aim for achievement across the board, but also consider how the addition of high-quality preschool, literacy programs for parents, school physical/mental health clinics, a technology-rich, research-based curriculum with assessments, and a longer school day and year may improve achievement, she said.

During the initial development of NCLB, Sternberg noted that many aspects were left out because educators and researchers were not at the table. "If those people had been at the table [the first time], we wouldn't be having this discussion."

 

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