While gridlock is the norm on many domestic issues, Republicans and Democrats are pledging a joint effort to address the future of the No Child Left Behind law. Though work is just underway, the pledge is giving analysts some confidence that lawmakers will examine NCLB’s most difficult topics, from achievement among students of color to the future of persistently failing public schools.
“The need for change is indisputable,” National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel says. With one-third of ninth-graders failing to graduate high school, the system “is failing to meet the needs of too many students, and educators are chafing under a system that unfairly measures schools and students based solely on test scores.”
Though there is some consensus that test scores alone cannot drive quality improvements, the possible solutions are many — a point that lawmakers note in their new effort to bring diverse views to the table.
“We all agree, along with teachers, parents, administrators and many others, that it needs significant changes. To get there, we need to be open to bold ideas that ‘disrupt’ our current system,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee in a written statement.
Under NCLB, schools are to report steadily increasing levels of achievement so that every child masters state academic requirements by 2014. Annual reports document each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress, which carries penalties for underachievers. In schools without 100 percent proficiency by 2014, states or other organizations may take over schools and teachers may be forced to reapply for their jobs.
About 15 percent of schools fail to meet progress each year, and some states have as many as 50 percent that are not able to reach the standards, NEA says.
While NCLB requires the reporting of student achievement by race and income, some analysts say the law has fallen short in serving the most disadvantaged students.
Low-income public schools are “excessively under-resourced,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
Many HACU institutions work closely with their neighboring K-12 schools, he says, and it is clear many struggle because of a lack of funds. In addition, Hispanic students have few adult role models in their school buildings. While Hispanics are 22 percent of the K-12 student population in public schools, they represent only 5 percent of teachers and 3 percent of administrators.
Flores is calling on Congress to create new centers of excellence at Hispanic-serving colleges and universities that would help address this shortage.
Legal U.S. residents who earned college degrees in other countries may be another underused resource to bolster the ranks of Latino teachers. HSIs could play a role in developing career pathways for these individuals to enter the teaching profession in the U.S., he says.
HACU also is recommending a new federal aid program to the 2,100 school districts that enroll the most Hispanic students. Modeled after the Hispanic-serving college and university program in the Higher Education Act, the government would provide capacity-building funds to these schools for curriculum and physical plant improvements.
Elsewhere, a coalition of civil rights organizations is calling on Congress to give greater attention to high schools when it reviews the law.
The K-12 education statute “is fundamentally a civil rights law,” says Michael Wotorson, executive director of the Campaign for High School Equity, which includes civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, National Urban League and National Council of La Raza.
In many low-income schools, only half of African-American and Hispanic students who enter ninth grade complete high school four years later. Students in these schools also tend to have less access to academically rigorous courses that prepare them for college.
“We would like much more attention to high schools,” Wotorson says. “By failing to address the high school issue head-on, we’re solidifying the reality of ‘two Americas.’”
High schools serving low-income students lack sufficient funding and have less access to quality teachers. While NCLB has a requirement for districts to employ “highly qualified” teachers, this provision is “not monitored or enforced sufficiently,” Wotorson says.
As the House of Representatives launches a series of hearings on NCLB’s future, conservatives are calling for their own changes in the law. While pledging a bipartisan review of the law, House Republican leaders have outlined their own priorities for the legislation, which include restoring local control—with less federal input—and protecting taxpayers, a goal that may be at odds with others’ call for more funding.
“We have listened to parents, teachers, principals and school boards, and we know there is not a one-size-fits-all federal solution to the challenges that face our schools,” says Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the senior Republican on the House education panel.
Other GOP priorities are empowering teachers and more flexibility for teachers, removing what it terms “onerous” federal requirements.
The House kicked off its efforts in late February with a hearing on charter schools. There is no timetable for development of a bill, though the education committee has pledged an “open, transparent” review of the law this year.