Thursday, March 15, 2007

GOP Revolt On No Child Left Behind

Interesting. It sounded last month like No Child Left Behind was going to be renewed with little problem. Not so says the Washington Post:

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate -- including the House's second-ranking Republican -- will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush's signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

For a White House fighting off attacks on its war policy and dealing with a burgeoning scandal at the Justice Department, the GOP dissidents' move is a fresh blow on a new front. Among the co-sponsors of the legislation are House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a key supporter of the measure in 2001, and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Bush's most reliable defender in the Senate. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House GOP's chief deputy whip and a supporter in 2001, has also signed on.

Burson Snyder, a spokesman for Blunt, said that after several meetings with school administrators and teachers in southwest Missouri, the House Republican leader turned against the measure he helped pass. Blunt was convinced that the burdens and red tape of the No Child Left Behind Act are unacceptably onerous, Snyder said.

Some Republicans said yesterday that a backlash against the law was inevitable. Many voters in affluent suburban and exurban districts -- GOP strongholds -- think their schools have been adversely affected by the law. Once-innovative public schools have increasingly become captive to federal testing mandates, jettisoning education programs not covered by those tests, siphoning funds from programs for the talented and gifted, and discouraging creativity, critics say.


Still, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), author of the new House bill, said the number of Republicans already backing the new measure exceeds the 41 House Republicans and Democrats who voted against the original legislation in 2001. Of the House bill's co-sponsors, at least eight voted for the president's plan six years ago.

"President Bush and I just see education fundamentally differently," said Hoekstra, a longtime opponent of the law. "The president believes in empowering bureaucrats in Washington, and I believe in local and parental control."


Under Hoekstra's bill, any state could essentially opt out of No Child Left Behind after one of two actions. A state could hold a referendum, or two of three elected entities -- the governor, the legislature and the state's highest elected education official -- could decide that the state would no longer abide by the strict rules on testing and the curriculum.

The Senate bill is slightly less permissive, but it would allow a state to negotiate a "charter" with the federal government to get away from the law's mandates.

In both cases, the states that opt out would still be eligible for federal funding, but those states could exempt any education program but special education from No Child Left Behind strictures.

Can Hoekstra and the other Repubs opposed to NCLB make any meaningful changes to the law when it comes up for renewal?

I dunno.

Ordinarily I'd say no, what with Dems in charge and seemingly behind an expansion of the law to other subject areas like science and history (as long as the funding is increased as well.)

But when even Preznut Bush's most ardent supporter - John Cornyn of Texas - is supporting some Senate variation of the Hoekstra bill, you never know.


Ever read NCLB? My wife, currently a teacher of Mandarin in a public school district in CO is currently obtaining an on line degree which required her to study NCLB in depth.

I look foward to your comments about your own experience and opinions regarding this governemental mandate.


This my second response. I am not sure what happened to the first.

Have you read NCLB? My wife, currently a teacher of Mandarin in a school district in CO, is obtaining an on-line degreee that required her to study NCLB in depth. We discussed it as she went along.

I look forward to your personal experience and comments regarding this particular governmental mandate.
Hey, Tony,

I have been teaching for 6+ years. I started right before the NCLB bill became law. I also started right before Mayor Michael Bloomberg gained 100% control of the New York City public school system.

My experience w/ NCLB is this: the law is too test-heavy. Everything is about the test and getting as many students to pass the test as possible. At my school, we are very, very successful at getting as many kids as possible to pass the test. As a teacher, I am very, very successful at getting kids to pass the test. In my 6 years as a teacher, I have taught 18 sections of Regents prep (including summer school and remedial classes for kids who have failed the ELA Regents exam at least once.)

At bottom, I wish the law (and Mayor Bloomberg's reforms in the NYC public school system) were less focused on test scores as the sole gauge of whether a school (and teachers and kids) are successful or not. My experience is that with enough time and enough emphasis, you can help most kids to pass a state test, but this has little to do with really educating students. In semesters where I am teaching Regents prep, I spend less time on teaching a love for literature, on teaching life skills (like conflict resolution and financial literacy), and creating an educational environment where both kids and the teacher get to have fun and learn.

Nonetheless, I am realistic and I know because I am a proven Regents prep teacher, those are the classes my AP is always going to want me to teach (at least as long as the focus in education is on test scores.)
I hate teaching Regents prep, especially to ESL students. I drill them endlessly on 4 paragraph responses that minimally meet the standards, and they pass.

But the only thing they learn is how to write 4 paragraph responses that minimally meet the standards. I could make them speak, read, and write English better. I could make them love literature.

It's ridiculous, actually, that they need to take it at all.
It's my completely inexpert theory that good students are good because they are interested in the things that are going on in the classroom, and bad students are bad, not because they are incapable, but because they have been bored to tears by years and years of teachers who didn't interest them at all, and know no other response than shutting it all out. (That is not to implicate the teachers, becuase home factors are far more important in developing attitudes toward learning.)

The obvious conclusion is that teaching to the test is either ineffective or murders the very interest in learning that is the desired outcome of public school.

If they could just have seen Miss Armes, a broad-shouldered West Texas woman then a couple of years short of retirement, acting out the witches' scene from Macbeth...
kicksiron, I currently teach three classes of seniors - two are college bound prep classes, the third is an extra class for kids who have failed English at least once during high school (many have failed multiple times.)

I can tell you that many of the students in that third class are not interested in learning, do not engage in the lessons (most of which are high interest and NOT geared toward teaching to ANY kind of test), don't like to read, write or think (or can't) and would rather spend time in the lunch room and the stairwells hanging out or home watching Maury than in the classroom learning.

Is it my fault they don't want to learn? Is it because I'm a bad teacher? Or have these kids failed English (and various other classes actually...many of them are missing anywhere from 2-15 credits) for other, more complex reasons.

Let's face it, not every teacher these kids could have had could have been "bad," yet many have never done well in school. Why? Leaving aside ESL students, my experience tells me the factors that contribute to whether a high school student does well or not in school are as follows: a) ability/intelligence b) parental involvement c) personal responsibility d) teacher/school

There is an unwillingness to say what is the truth because it seems unpalatable and politically dangerous: ability and intelligence have much larger factors in how well a student does in school than the quality of school or teacher. Do schools and teachers need to be of the highest quality? Yes. Should teachers craft high interest lessons? Yes (although even that dictum is problematic...will the workplace craft high interest work for students after they graduate and enter the workforce?) But at bottom, students have to want to learn and have to have the tools necessary to do it. Some of those tools (e.g., reading skills, writing skills, etc.) can be given by teachers and school; some of those tools (e.g., intelligence) cannot.
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