One of President-elect Barack Obama's big challenges next year will be to restructure the No Child Left Behind Act, a bipartisan effort launched six years ago as a way to improve America's struggling public schools.
But how and when the discussion will begin on the issue is up in the air, as Obama so far has provided skimpy details on his plans for it, and the economic crisis looks to dominate domestic policy for a while.
Still, educators and academics are eager to see how lawmakers will handle NCLB and change what many call a broken system that puts too much pressure on schools without funding to implement changes.
"No Child has helped to shine a spotlight on the problems facing the public schools; now we need a president and congress that can craft motivating remedies, supporting and not punishing local educators," said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at UC Berkeley. "What's required is a careful rethinking how Washington can play a productive role, not a punitive one."
No Child Left Behind — signed by President George W. Bush in early 2002 — is a standardized-test system for tracking achievement. The law expired in 2007 and sits idle in Congress awaiting reauthorization.
Under the law, a minimum number of students must score proficient or better in math and reading on state standardized tests. Schools that do not have enough children who meet the benchmarks and other criteria are deemed in need of improvement and placed on state and federal watch lists. Schools and school districts that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" two years in a row can face sanctions such as having money withheld or be forced to restructure.
Many educators agree that NCLB is a good start to overhauling the system, but the law should be reshaped to give schools credit for improvement and be adequately funded. Others say the mandate, which also calls for all students in the United States to be proficient in math and reading by 2014, is unrealistic and sets schools up to fail.
"Pressure and humiliation are not successful strategies to use," said Nia Rashidchi, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the West Contra Costa school district, where some schools have been deemed in need of improvement. "When schools and school districts don't meet all the targets but have good growth, the focus is still, 'But you did not meet the targets.' That's not a good incentive for staffs to keep doing the hard work that they are doing." ...
Monday, December 01, 2008
This from the Contra Costa Times: