Monday, January 02, 2006

No NCLB renewal left behind 

Dan Lips reviews No Child Left Behind, which will be up for renewal in 2007. Its main strengths are the sunshine provisions that require release of data (cf. this about Minnesota's report cards and how they can be used) and some limited ability to get resources for after-school tutoring.
[NCLB] advanced an important principle: Schools should be accountable to parents, and the best way for parents to exercise that accountability is to give them some freedom and flexibility over their child�s education.

Unfortunately, the law stopped far short of providing real parental choice � one of No Child Left Behind�s key weaknesses. It failed to change the dynamic that public schools operate under because most parents really don�t have control of the money that will be spent on their child�s education.
Worse still, Lips reports, the teaching establishment is lowering standards for the tests in order to make everyone look above average (the Lake Wobegon effect which Chester Finn at the Thomas Fordham Foundation has documented for years) by allowing standards to be set by the states rather than an independent, consistent test. Nobody of course can agree on what should be tested.

NCLB faces a stiff fight for renewal. Lips suggests keeping the reporting requirements and testing in place but freeing up the money from federal control. That makes a good bit of sense, in terms of letting 50 states try 50 different programs and seeing which succeed. This falls far short of providing parents with real choice, but given the battle over vouchers for even victims of Katrina, it may be the best we can hope for.