THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT:

JUST SAY NO

Gerald W. Bracey

Gerald W. Bracey is an independent researcher and writer living in Alexandria, VA, an Associate of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and an Associate Professor at George Mason University.His most recent books are What You Should Know About The War Against America's Public Schools (Allyn & Bacon, 2002) and Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's Guide to Standardized Testing (Revised edition, Phi Delta Kappa International, 2002).

When the No Child Left Behind Act passed about a year ago, I called it a trap.Mine was not a popular stance.NCLB was a wildly popular bill.Even leading Democrats such as Teddie Kennedy and George Miller backed it.I didn't.I called it a grand scheme to privatize more schools, maybe even the whole education system.Sadly, subsequent events show I was right.

Consider first how NCLB contradicts everything else the Bush administration is doing.It is de-regulating every pollution-producing industry in sight while cutting funds to environmental programs and slashing the regulatory powers of environmental agencies.Yet NCLB binds schools in a federal straitjacket of law and regulations at which any business would rebel.For instance, one provision requires schools to send the names, addresses and telephone numbers of high school juniors and seniors to military recruiters.Another says schools can't keep the Boy Scouts from using school facilities just because the local school board opposes the Scouts' anti-homosexual stance.Regulations of this minute detail would bankrupt any business.Why would the Bush administration do that?Answer: it wouldn't.It has ulterior motives.

NCLB's testing requirements reveal these motives. Under NCLB, states must test all children in grades three through eight every year in reading and math and, two years later, science as well.At the time the law passed, only nine states had testing programs large enough to satisfy the law's requirements.No wonder Sharon Robinson, an Educational Testing Service vice president called the law "the test publishers full employment act."Why would a de-regulating administration add such a burden?

The tests must be based on "challenging" standards and, most important to the Bush plan, schools must show "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP).Schools must improve annually until, after 12 years, all of the schools' students test at the "proficient" level.The school must demonstrate AYP overall and separately for all major ethnic and socio-economic groups.And pigs will fly.

States across the nation differ in their estimates of how long it will take before all of their schools will be labeled "failing."Some say in two years, some say five.AYP as expressed in the formula of NCLB, is a completely nutty idea.

The White House's own calculations revealed that had NCLB been in place a few years, about 90% of the schools in North Carolina and Texas would have been labeled "failing schools."North Carolina and Texas?!?!Recent research reports have singled out these states for their test-score progress.If they can't meet the standards, what hope is there for the rest?Yet North Carolina calculated that 51% of the schools it had applauded for exemplaryprogress will be labeled failures.

To see where this is leading, we must detour briefly past the Supreme Court's declaration that the Cleveland voucher program passed First Amendment muster.When the Court handed down that decision, the consensus among observers was that it would not affect many schools.Vouchers seemed needed only by some urban poor who were trapped because they lacked sufficient funds to pay private school tuition or to move to the suburbs.

Through AYP though, many suburban schools, schools that parents have rightly found perfectly acceptable, or, as in North Carolina, exemplary, will be designated as failing.NCLB's sanctions allow the kids to transfer out of these schools (although, given hoards in the halls of the nation's schools, virtually none of them will find any place to go).The school's faculty and staff can be fired.The entire district can be taken over by the state."Failure" will become rampant among suburban schools classes.The schools will not be "failing", of course, in any meaningful way except that from the goofy provisions of NCLB.

This is as the Bush people foresaw.Make the middle classes anxious about their schools and they, too, might clamor for vouchers.As drafted, NCLB provided vouchers, but Congress axed them.They'll be back.As conservative school critic and voucher advocate, Denis Doyle wrote, NCLB means that the nation's schools are "about to be inundated in a sea of bad news."The schools, all schools, said Doyle, are going to get "pole-axed."He seemed gleeful at the prospect.When it happens, Bush will push vouchers.

The testing requirements alone will consign the schools to failure but the tests will be assisted by NCLB's requirements for "highly qualified" teachers.Under NCLB, anyone the school hired after 2002-20003 school year began must "highly qualified" by 2005-2006, and all teachers in the building must be by 2005-2006.By "highly qualified," NCLB means those who hold at least a bachelor's degree, have full state certification (or have passed the state's licensing exam), and who have not had any certification requirements waived on "an emergency, provisional, or temporary basis."

Chicago says 25% of the teachers in low performing schools don't meet NCLB's requirements.In Baltimore, it's.One quarter of teachers in low achieving New York City Schools have no certification for anything they are teaching.On the other hand, a recent teacher survey found that a lot of teachers weren't teaching any more.Their #1 reason for leaving?The onset of high-stakes testing programs like those required by NCLB.These facts are widely known so we can safely assume that the framers of NCLB knew them, too.

States are scrambling to find ways to cope with NCLB.I have a suggestion.The federal government cannot compel states to conform to NCLB.States must comply only if they take the money the bill appropriated.The government says, "If you say yes to this new federal money, you have to conform to the new law." My advice to the states: Just say no.

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