Wither NCLB?

It has been a rough couple of weeks for our federal elementary and secondary education act.  During a recent road tour, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings speculated that it is unlikely that NCLB will be reauthorized this calendar year.  We’re still waiting on Ted Kennedy’s new version of the law.  Buck McKeon is just as skeptical as Spellings about the 2008 future of new legislation.  The future ain’t too bright in our nation’s capital.

It’s been just as interesting in the states.  Most of us know about the long-pending NCLB lawsuit waged by the National Education Association and many states.  Now we have new action and new rhetoric in the Mid-Atlantic adding to NCLB’s poor grades.

In Virginia, the state’s legislature this weekend voted to mandate that the Virginia Board of Education explore opting out of NCLB.  Citing concerns about ELL students and exceptions (or the lack thereof) made for Virginia students with regard to AYP. It’s a bold move.  Pulling out of NCLB would cost the Old Dominion millions upon millions of dollars.  And that comes at a time when Gov. Tim Kaine is pushing hard to add universal preK, expand high school pathways, and boost the state’s college-going rates.  With such aspirations, it says a lot that Virginia officials are saying it is worth more to refuse the NCLB check from the feds than it is to pay for all of the mandates that come with the law.

Across the border, West Virginia educators told Spellings that NCLB’s mandates are crushing teacher morale.  Standardized tests and the scripted curriculums that come with them are destroying the teaching profession.  We’ve heard about teaching to the test for years now and its impact on students, but Mountaineer teachers gave Spellings an earful on its long-term impact for teachers.

So what does this all mean?  For years now, Eduflack has been saying that reauthorization of NCLB (with improvements) only comes when Main Street USA buys into it.  Credit to Spellings for trying to do just that, but it may be a day late and a dollar short.  The time to promote the value and impact of NCLB was two or three years ago, when its impact was just coming to light.  Instead, the U.S. Department of Education froze, fearful of IG investigations and such.  For the past 18 months, NCLB opposition has been banging and banging and banging away on the law, throwing a bright light on every flaw, blemish, and problem.  And that light hasn’t dimmed,

Whatever the name, whatever the logo, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act needs to be reauthorized.  Isn’t it time we look at the good of NCLB and preserve those benefits, while identifying the shortcomings and building real, meaningful solutions that can make up those gaps and improve the law?

NCLB or its offspring should be seen as a benefit for states, not as an overwhelming obstacle that hinders states from boosting student achievement across all demographics.  With its investment in PD, it should be seen as a boon for teachers, not a destroyer of morale.  It should be about what the feds can do to improve state and local public education.  And at the end of it all, isn’t it supposed to be about student learning?

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