Goodbye, No Child Left Behind | KUOW News and Information

Goodbye, No Child Left Behind

Nov 24, 2015
Originally published on December 1, 2015 11:52 am

After a long stalemate, a bipartisan team of congressional negotiators has agreed to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law, currently known as No Child Left Behind, sends roughly $14 billion a year to schools that serve mostly low-income students.

Here's what we know about the rough agreement. First, annual testing — a major feature of NCLB — would remain for grades three through eight and at least once in high school. Schools would still have to test 95 percent of their students and report the results by race, income and special need.

Delia Pompa, former vice president with the National Council of La Raza, says this requirement is crucial.

"It is the mechanism that brought to light how children in subgroups — I'm talking about Latinos, African-Americans, children in poverty, limited English-proficient children — how they're doing."

As for what would change, the U.S. education secretary could no longer push for academic standards like the Common Core or mandate that teachers be evaluated based on things like student test scores.

But the biggest change lawmakers are proposing is this: They want the federal government out of the business of identifying failing schools, leaving that tough job to states. Each state would come up with its own plan to help schools improve, its own deadlines and its own metrics to measure that improvement. If schools don't improve, states would have to figure out what to do.

Under NCLB, the federal government has had a big role in all of that, and some lawmakers and advocates worry that this overhaul could move too far in the opposite direction, dramatically weakening the law's protection of poor and minority students. At a recent meeting with civil rights groups on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sounded anxious.

"The idea that we would pass a major piece of legislation about education and, in effect, shovel money into states and say, 'Do with it what you want', and not have some accountability for how that money is spent, I think, is appalling," Warren said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and one of the architects of the law's rewrite, has dismissed this concern. He declined to be interviewed for this story but sent NPR a statement saying he disagrees with groups "who believe that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is through Washington instead of states."

But Daria Hall, with the advocacy group The Education Trust, says that, historically, "states have not made decisions with the best interest of vulnerable kids in mind."

Hall says, when given the opportunity, states still find ways to camouflage the fact that most of their low-income, black and Latino students don't get a quality education. As evidence, she points to the most recent reading and math scores from the so-called "Nation's Report Card."

"Those kids are losing ground," Hall says. "And yet, we're telling parents and the public this is an A school when the reality is it's doing C work or maybe D work. That's why we need a continued federal role in education."

How significant a role is the question. Ted Shaw, former head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, says that, without the federal government as a watchdog, it'll be up to states to take the lead in tackling the biggest problem of all — the concentration of poor and minority children in failing schools.

"This is one of the most important issues our nation faces when we talk about educational opportunity," Shaw says. "Concentrated poverty is deadly, and we're not paying enough attention to it."

A compromise bill will soon move to the full House and Senate before it can make its way to President Obama.

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After a long stalemate, a bipartisan congressional committee has agreed to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law, known as No Child Left Behind, sends some $14 billion a year to schools that serve low-income children. Civil rights groups support the rewrite, which shifts some powers from the feds to the states. But as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, there are fears that this might weaken protection for poor and minority students.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Here's what we know about this compromise and what won't change. First, annual testing - a major feature of No Child Left Behind - is likely to stay for grades three through eight and at least once in high school. Schools would still have to test 95 percent of their students and report the results by race, income and special needs. That's crucial, says Delia Pompa, a former vice president of the National Council of La Raza.

DELIA POMPA: ...Because it is the mechanism that brought to light how children and subgroups - I'm talking about Latinos, African-Americans, children in poverty, limited English proficient children - how they're doing.

SANCHEZ: So what will change? The U.S. Secretary of Education can no longer prescribe or push for academic standards like the common core or mandate that teachers be evaluated based on things like student test scores. But the biggest change in the law would be this - the job of identifying schools that are failing would be left entirely up to states. Each state would have to come up with its own plan to help schools improve - its own deadlines, its own metrics to measure that improvement - and if schools don't improve, states on their own would have to figure out what to do. Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government has had a big role in all of that. Lawmakers now say (in Spanish) no mas - no more. But at a recent meeting with civil rights groups on Capitol Hill, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the idea that this new law could in effect...

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ELIZABETH WARREN: ...Just shovel money into the states and say, do with it what you want, and not have some accountability for how that money is being spent. I think it's appalling.

(APPLAUSE)

SANCHEZ: One of the architects of the law's rewrite, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, has dismissed this concern. He declined to be interviewed for this story but sent NPR a statement saying he disagrees with groups who, quote, "believe that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is through Washington instead of states."

DARIA HALL: If you look historically, states have not made decisions with the best interest of vulnerable kids in mind.

SANCHEZ: Daria Hall is with the advocacy group The Education Trust. She says that when given the opportunity, states still find ways to camouflage the fact that most of their low-income black and Latino students do not get a quality education. The most recent test scores from the so-called Nation's Report Card are a testament to that.

HALL: And those kids are actually losing ground. And yet we're telling parents and we're telling the public, this is an A school that is doing A work, when the reality is it's doing C work or maybe D work. And that's why we need a continued federal role in education.

SANCHEZ: How significant a role moving forward is the question. Ted Shaw, former head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund says without the federal government as a watchdog, states must now take the lead in tackling the biggest problem of all - the concentration of poor minority children in failing schools.

TED SHAW: This is one of the most important issues that our nation faces when we talk about educational opportunity. Concentrated poverty is deadly. And we are not paying enough attention to it.

SANCHEZ: A final bill will still need to pass the full House and Senate before it goes to President Obama to sign. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.