‘No Child Left Behind' Needs To Be Updated

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More than two years ago, Congress passed, with bipartisan support, the No Child Left Behind Act creating a sweeping overhaul of the federal government's education policy.

When it was passed, almost no one opposed its so-called reforms. They include putting a qualified teacher in all classrooms, setting standards of achievement for all students, holding public schools accountable and closing the student achievement gap throughout the country.

Even Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a longtime Republican nemesis, threw his support behind the new law. NCLB was hailed as a much-needed public education fix.

If only we knew then what we know now.

After two years, we've learned there are many flaws and inconsistencies in the NCLB Act that need to be examined and corrected.

First, for NCLB programs to be effective, schools need to be fully funded. Federal funding for 2003 was $8 billion shy of what had been authorized. In 2004. the budget allocation was $11 billion below what was needed.

States and school districts like Payson already operate under severe budget constraints brought on by a state legislature that refuses to shoulder the burden of financing quality public education.

Finding the money to meet the additional requirements of NCLB adds even more burdens to the districts' budget crisis.

NCLB demands include additional teacher training and recruitment, development of costly tests, new books and building construction.

Then there's the NCLB requirement that all teachers should be "highly qualified" by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

But, who's highly qualified?

The law deems some teachers "highly qualified" who are at charter schools or who are in preparation programs that do not meet state certification standards. Also, teachers providing only supplemental services can be labeled "highly qualified."

But special education teachers who are asked to teach several subjects, but are not certified in each, are not considered "highly qualified.

NCLB also says schools that don't meet their progress targets for two consecutive years will be identified as "needing improvement," and after three failing years will be subject to a takeover or complete overhaul.

The tests that determine whether schools are failing are one-size-fits-all exams that are confusing and only add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to public education.

If a school is deemed failing, the law doesn't offer any problem-solving measures that will help it get on track. Rather NCLB offers only punitive measures.

"There are critical flaws in this law that both Republicans and Democrats have said need to be fixed," said National Education Association President Reg Weaver. "We should be talking about ways to create smaller class sizes, hire and retain high-quality teachers in the classroom, and invest in up-to-date resources for all students, not piling on yet another high stakes test."

More than 30 state legislatures -- even those with Republican majorities -- have either passed or proposed state polices that call for changes in NCLB.

It's time for Arizona to do the same.

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