March 9-10, 2006
It has been over four years since the passage of the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB). The law has forced educators to focus on readying students to pass state-level criterion-referenced tests rather than enhancing learning.
While supporters of the law point to evidence there has been some improvement in such test scores, little progress toward the goal of assuring that " all students must be proficient in reading, math, and science by 2014," only eight years away is evident.
While some test scores for some students have improved, the gap between Asian and European-American students and African and Hispanic American students continues to widen. In the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than 10% of African and Hispanic American eighth graders are proficient in math.
No Child Left Behind punishes entire student bodies for the failures of few pupils, often only very few. The law ignores the fact that low parent educational levels and income levels have the greatest impact upon failure in student achievement. Any kindergarten or first grade teacher will report that most children of the under-classes start school well behind their middle class peers.
Perhaps the most distasteful feature of federal education management under this Administration is that federal dollars intended for schools have been funneled to undeserving neo-conservative supporters.
In a recently released review from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the Republican controlled Congress, cases were detailed in which the federal Department of Education (USDOE) twisted rules to award millions of dollars to political allies.
The GAO found instances in which grants went to applicants who had not been recommended by a single panel member of committees appointed to review proposals, an apparent violation of department rules.
For example, the GAO concluded that Federal officials changed selection methods and expanded their funding list to include William Bennett’s "K12 Inc," an online curriculum firm. The former Secretary of Education under President Reagan benefited from a $ 2.3 million grant funneled through the state of Arkansas. This resulted in reducing funding to all the other projects.
Likewise, the "American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence" received a $5 million grant even though its proposal was not recommended by a majority of the experts on a peer review panel. ABCTE is a project of the neo-conservative "Education Leaders Council," co-founded by Eugene Hickok, a former Undersecretary of Education under George W. Bush. When the Department does not comply with its own rules, "the integrity of its competitive grant award process may be undermined," the GAO stated in its report.
U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said the "report shows Bush administration cronies benefited at the expense of school districts." The GAO recommended more steps the Department should take to bolster its rules. In a written response, Department officials assured the GAO that the USDOE has taken "major steps to improve its procedures for awarding competitive grants, and these steps have resulted in increased accountability."
It is unfair to hold teachers and administrators accountable for the progress of "all children" on state administered tests when the federal administration is playing politics with the funding.
The operation of the USDOE and NCLB, under President Bush, should be more than raising the eyebrows of policy leaders including liberals, conservatives and even the neo-conservatives.
William L. Bainbridge is Distinguished Research Professor for the University of Dayton and President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch, a national educational auditing, research, and data organization.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data