What’s the difference between old and new NCLB?

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As Congress inches toward revamping the unpopular No Child Left Behind law that President Bush passed in 2002, it will consider what the Obama administration has dubbed “Blueprint for Reform.”

What President Obama wants in the law’s reauthorization and what Congress will pass could be two different things, but it’s a good idea to look at where NCLB stands and where the “Blueprint for Reform” could take education in Minnesota and the country.

Saba Bireda, an education policy analyst for American Progress, offers this tit for tat comparison between the current and potential bills. Here are some of the differences the article points out:

While NCLB required “challenging” standards, it imposed no requirements on the content or rigor of the standards, which has led to a wide variation in the quality of state standards. The Blueprint would require states to develop and adopt standards that prepare students for “college and career readiness.”

Under NCLB, states are required to use a testing system that measures students’ mastery of the state standards in grades three through eight. This data is disaggregated by racial and ethnic groups, low-income students, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency. The Blueprint’s test would align with state standards based on the developing set of national “common” standards. States will continue to collect disaggregated data as well as data on graduation rates, college enrollment rates and rates of college enrollment without remediation.

NCLB measures school performance by how many students make “adequate yearly progress” with the goal of having 100 percent proficiency by 2014. If a school fails to make AYP, it undergoes graduated sanctions every year the school misses the AYP mark. In the final stages, schools must “restructure” by conversion to a charter school, replacing the school staff, transferring management to an outside provider, or another strategy selected by the state. The Blueprint, on the other hand, will look at an accountability system that recognizes individual student growth and school-wide progress over time. The Blueprint will also identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in each state to be designated as “challenge” schools, and districts will be required to implement turnaround models at those schools. The next 5 percent of low-performing schools, and schools not closing persistent achievement gaps, will be identified as “challenge” schools and must undertake research-based, locally determined reforms to improve or face restrictions on the use of federal funding until they show improvement.

Congress has begun hearings on NCLB and its future iteration. NCLB is such a hash law that the sooner it leaves public policy, the better.

As for the Blueprint, so far, so good. Changing the main goal from “challenging” to “college and career readiness” is a step forward. Gathering more data than simply what is revealed through one test is a vast improvement. Finding a better way to hold schools accountable for performance is absolutely necessary.

Along with schools in the rest of the nation, Minnesota schools faced NCLB’s unrealistic expectations coupled with draconian punishments. This unholy alliance created an atmosphere that caused teachers to “teach to the test” rather than teach to the whole curriculum. Minnesotans spotted this situation as a farce early on but lacked the ability to do much about it.

Minnesota’s congressional leaders are well positioned to ensure good education policy is put in place at the national level that will help students, not hinder them in an unworkable situation like NCLB.