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Where is NCLB Going?

The question is up in the air until Bush says goodbye

By Alexander Russo |

May 2008


On his way out...<br />
On his way out...

Last year, relief from NCLB was on its way. Floated at the end of the summer, the Miller-McKeon draft plan addressed long-time concerns, offering districts growth models, multiple measures of accountability, and “differentiated” treatment based on the number of AYP measures missed.But the effort fell apart, and with it, prospects for reprieve from NCLB’s onerous demands. Now it will be a long wait before the six-year-old law gets another look. Most observers agree that a new Congress and administration will be required to give it one. Some suggest that even then NCLB won’t be a priority.

Until recently, conventional wisdom held that an earlier reauthorization would have been better for state agencies looking for more wiggle room and streamlining of the massive law. Without statutory changes, AYP requirements continue to ratchet toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014. With every passing year, more schools move toward “restructuring,” the end of the line under NCLB.

But there are advantages to the delay. At this point, the press automatically connects crises to the unpopular law. If a teacher says something crazy, it’s NCLB’s fault. If a principal fiddles with test scores, it’s NCLB’s fault. Budget crunch? You get the idea.

But that’s not all. Whether it’s parental notification, choice and tutoring, or highly qualified teachers, many provisions of the law are no longer so challenging. Few districts are closing schools or firing teachers, since it’s not specifically required. No one has to face new stipulations that would undoubtedly come along with changes to the original statute. Love it or hate it, NCLB’s familiar.

It’s also shifting through non-legislative means. Secretary Margaret Spellings has authorized growth model pilots in several states. In March, she announced that up to 10 states will pilot differentiated consequences plans. More announcements are
rumored to be in the works.

Politically, the time lag has solidified interest in amending NCLB, even from those who shaped it. Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. George Miller have spoken candidly about the need for change. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both lambasted the law.

Of course, not every state will embark on a differentiated interventions pilot, and not all of the administrative changes will be welcome ones. Spellings, for example, called for uniform graduation rate reporting in an early April announcement.
In the meantime, you’ve got to admit it, NCLB’s turned out to be a pretty convenient scapegoat. Enjoy!

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