Anniversary is opportunity to revamp "No Child Left Behind"

WASHINGTON -- Five years after the president signed the No Child Left Behind Act, the controversial legislation is still underfunded by billions of dollars, still heavily focused on one-size-fits-all testing and still unfairly punishing many schools and students. The National Education Association has released eyewitness accounts of NCLB flaws and said the law must meet the needs of those in the classroom.

"The fifth anniversary is the second starting gun for NCLB," said Reg Weaver, NEA president. "Educators have seen the problems with the law firsthand and have outlined changes that are needed. As lawmakers consider reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, they have the opportunity to look ahead and make positive changes to ensure that every child has a great public school."

NEA released NCLB/ESEA: It's Time for a Change! Voices from America's Classrooms, which includes the personal experiences of almost 400 educators across the country.

About 70 percent of NEA members disapprove of NCLB and 57 percent want major reforms, according to a recent survey. Most people share educators' concerns: Nearly six in 10 Americans believe NCLB has had no effect on schools or has had a negative effect, according to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll.

NEA delegates representing the Association's 3.2 million members approved NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization, which includes practical reforms to the law. Key elements of the plan include accountability systems that reward success, smaller class sizes, adequate resources, quality educators in every classroom and engaged parents, families and communities.

Rather than focusing on high stakes tests, NEA's comprehensive strategy calls for measuring student achievement over time through multiple indicators. NCLB takes a snapshot of student performance on two tests on one day rather than delivering a complete portrait of students' needs and achievements. NEA's plan would transform NCLB to assist states and schools in improving overall student achievement while closing achievement gaps.

Terri Vest, a high school teacher from Montpelier, Vt., said that one of her first experiences with NCLB was standardized testing. A student with some learning disabilities had been working hard throughout the school year and making good grades, but then spent three days being tested.

"When the testing was over, she came to me and said, ‘I'm going to quit school,'" Vest said. "I said, ‘No, you're not going to quit school. What are you talking about?' She said, ‘I'm stupid. I always thought I was smart, but I think that you all have just been making it too easy here for me because you like me. I took this test, and I know I did badly on it, and I'm stupid.' That's heartbreaking. I'm looking at this child who is going to be successful in her life. She's got everything you look for in a successful adult. And she's ready to quit school ...because all her life, all her work gets boiled down to a few numbers."

This one-size-fits-all approach to education in NCLB has failed to deliver promised results. According to a recent study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, "NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states" and "has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap."

Placing so much emphasis on reading and math tests has prompted thousands of schools to reduce, and even eliminate, time spent on other subjects, according to the Center on Education Policy.  Since 2002, when the law was passed, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts have reduced time spent on subjects like art, social studies and history. Under NCLB, schools that do not deliver high enough test scores face stiff penalties.

An increasing number of schools fear those penalties because the law has been severely underfunded -- by approximately $40 billion -- since its enactment in 2002. About 80 percent of school districts said they have costs associated with NCLB not covered by federal funding. NEA's Positive Agenda urges lawmakers to provide adequate tools and resources to comply with the law.

A coalition of 100 diverse organizations, including NEA, calls on Congress to make these and other important changes to the law. The proposals have had bipartisan support: 41 bills were introduced in the 109th Congress, with legislators working across party lines to improve NCLB.

"Accountability is a two-way street," Weaver said. "Educators are willing to be held accountable, but they need the tools to get the job done. NEA members have outlined clear changes that will improve the law, but more importantly, we have identified reforms that will help prepare our children and students to lead successful and productive lives.  NEA calls on Congress to consider the many bipartisan proposals to reform NCLB as it starts the reauthorization process."