Election 2008


What’s Next for No Child Left Behind?

October 17, 2008 06:00 PM
by Jen O'Neill
Leading educators wonder what the presidential candidates will bring to the table for No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind in Election ‘08

This election season, domestic policy, foreign policy, health care and the economy have been hot topics—but what about education? Many states still have students lagging behind, and many voters want to bring education to the forefront of the dialogue between the presidential candidates. According to The Economist, both candidates have overlooked many aspects of education, and remain quiet about how they are going to approach or revamp No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards.

The Economist says Sen. Barack Obama is “vague” about his No Child Left Behind plans, while The Atlanta Journal-Constitution states that Sen. John McCain has refrained from talking about NCLB.

Michael J. Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, believes that not talking about it prevents them from taking “unnecessary risks,” since NCLB is so “unpopular.” Teachers College at Columbia professor Michael A. Rebell stated that candidates are leaving the debate alone because “[i]t alienates a lot of constituencies no matter what they do.”

It’s a “hot-button issue,” said Marc S. Lampkin, executive director of Strong American Schools Ed in ’08. “If you’re a right-winger conservative, you don’t like the federal intrusion. If you’re a left-wing, pro-union person, you don’t like the fact that the accountability system with its penalties focuses on teachers.”

Reactions: The candidates on education

Barack Obama

According to Barack Obama’s official Web site, NCLB had good intentions but “unfulfilled funding promises.” Obama and Bide plan to reform NCLB by “funding the law,” by improving the assessments used measure student progress, and by enhancing NCLB’s accountability system so schools are supported rather than punished for their performance.

Find out more about Barack Obama’s views on education by viewing his voting record.

John McCain

Although he voted for the law in 2001, it's hard to glean John McCain’s views on NCLB. Throughout his journey on the campaign trail, McCain has said that he favors changing some testing requirements, particularly for English-language learners. McCain has also indicated that vouchers, charter schools and home schooling are “the key to success.”

To learn more about John McCain’s views on education, take a look at his voting record on education.

Opinion & Analysis: Does NCLB make the grade?

NCLB requires that all public school students take a standardized test every year; schools that don’t meet their goals are put on probation. This year, most schools across the nation failed to meet the testing targets outlined by NCLB, a new state-by-state study reveals.

California, along with many other states, fault officials for focusing on short-term educational goals over long-term educational gains to explain why NCLB standards have failed schools.
“We’re hitting a balloon payment scenario, to use a housing analogy, where the expectations set forth in the federal law are far higher than recent performance levels,” said Richard Cardullo, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who spearheaded an examination of state elementary schools’ performances under the law.

According to Cardullo’s study, which took place between 2003 and 2007, the percentage of students scoring at a proficient level increased at an average of less than four points each year. This makes schools nervous: the 2008 requirement for annual growth is slated for 11 percentage points.

Perhaps in response to these concerns, the U.S. Department of Education has made efforts to improve student assessments. In September, Margaret Spellings, the U.S. Secretary of Education, announced $7.5 million in grants “to study ways to enhance the assessment of student achievement, beyond what is required under No Child Left Behind.” New Hampshire, Utah, Washington, D.C., Minnesota and Nevada were awarded the grants to develop “innovative and effective tests” for English-language learners and students with disabilities.

Michelle Rhee, chancellor in Washington, D.C., is one of the few educators who believe that Congress should reauthorize NCLB. But Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, claims the law is not impacting students positively. “No Child Left Behind is a test-and-punish scheme that fails to deal with real problems in schools,” he says, adding that it “ends up dumbing down educational quality.”

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