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Correct flaws, but renew law

In my April 8 column in The News I wrote that the No Child Left Behind Act likely will be remembered as one of the few positive legacies of the Bush administration. In support of that contention I cited the major increases in education aid many states have adopted to meet the demands of the law that mandates annual testing, with dire consequences if a school system fails to deliver positive results. Having looked at that positive, I by design did not go into some of the negatives critics of the law have properly expressed and now hope to rectify.

My primary concern is that the great many questions about the existing law could undermine all the efforts to make changes that make good sense. They are all over the lot, even with calls to completely throw out all of the existing legislation. That, in my opinion, would be a major setback in the American educational system. The existing law, with all of its shortcomings, fills a basic need and should be altered to a degree but not cast aside.

The current law requires states to test students in elementary and secondary schools every year and bring them to efficiency in reading and math by 2014. It ignores, and rightly so, decades of sentiment that education is primarily a state and local government concern.

Unfortunately, with the law up for renewal, the calls for change could threaten its very existence. Some of the suggested changes can be beneficial; others can only weaken the existing law.

The president of the Center on Education Policy said it right with his statement that "The law is drawing opposition from the right because they are opposed to federal interference and from the left because of too much testing."

Just about everybody involved with education has ideas on what revisions should be made in the existing law. Some are meaningful, others are frivolous. The Bush administration would, among other changes, require testing in high schools. I would concur that is something that should be done.

I would also agree with the position of Utah that the law's requirement that educators have the equivalent of a college degree in every course they teach makes absolutely no sense, particularly in rural America where authorities by necessity ask teachers to fill many roles. English teachers, for example, are asked to pitch in and take over a geography class. It's been done for decades and it works for everybody.

On the other side of the picture let's look at a proposal that that would require every state to build a computer system that could track every student's academic performance. This would cost billions and most certainly is not an absolute necessity.

Another proposal that most assuredly should not be made would allows states to opt out of the law's testing requirements without losing any federal dollars. This would undermine the entire thrust of No Child Left Behind.

It is heartening to note that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is optimistic about getting renewal of No Child Left Behind. This despite the fact that many state, suburban and rural superintendents don't like the current law.

Some congressmen who initially voted for the legislation have expressed their concerns about federal funding that they say does not cover the costs of the extensive testing. That is a legitimate concern. But the president, who constantly boasts about No Child Left Behind, hopefully will provide funding in his next budget.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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