The NCLB Legacy

For years, I have said that No Child Left Behind could serve as President Bush’s legacy in terms of domestic policy. Love it or hate it, NCLB has changed the educational landscape. With the exception of some choice oppposition from groups like the NEA and AASA, most in the education community have supported (albeit quietly) a national call for research-proven instruction, greater accountability, and qualified and effective teachers in the classroom.

But the President’s words, delivered yesterday in Indiana, don’t quite match the rhetoric put forward by his Education Secretary. Last year, Spellings came out strong, stating that NCLB was 99.999% effective, leaving almost no room for improvement. Bush, however, is now saying while the law is working, “we can change parts of it for the better.”

The jury is still out as to whether NCLB will get reauthorized this year. Democratic congressional leaders voice support for the intent behind the law, but continue to call for additional funding (heck, a just-released study claims the state of Ohio needs to increase public education funding 30%). Meanwhile, Republicans are voicing greater concern with NCLB, claiming it is denying local control of the schools. Bush acknowledged that criticism in his remarks, using GOP grumblings as his justification for not having national testing standards.

So which is it? Are we 99.999% pure, or do need to change multiple parts of the law?

For the past five years, the U.S. Department of Education has been virtually all stick, no carrot when it comes to talking about NCLB. If they are serious about reauthorizing the law virtually intact, they need to shift their rhetorical focus.

NCLB is not about rules and regulations and unfunded mandates. NCLB is about ensuring that every child receives access to a high-quality, effective education. To do that, NCLB supporters need to put a human face on the law. Let’s hear from the kids and families and teachers who have benefited. When we hear NCLB, we need to see ourselves in the law. We need to know it is improving schools like ours and kids like ours.

The face of NCLB is academic achievement and student success. At the end of the day, who can oppose a law that says we need to teach what works in our classrooms, we need qualified teachers to teach it, and we need to make sure that every kid — not just those who can afford it — is given the academic tools to succeed?

(Originally published March 6, 2007)

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