Room to Improve

No Child Left Behind is scheduled for reauthorization by the end of this year


Third grader Monica Estrada Jalomo uses vocabulary strips to improve her English.

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It was expected to be one of the most contentious debates of the political year. President Bush's landmark No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is due for reauthorization by the end of 2007. But as the calendar ticks into November, little has been heard since early summer, when U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller began circulating his proposed changes to the education law designed to combat the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The Democrat's proposal—which included allowing schools to measure how much students learn using methods other than the policy's signature standardized tests—was simultaneously criticized for potentially weakening the law and potentially making it more stringent. By both Democrats and Republicans.

Miller and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings say they are committed to getting the bill renewed this year. And even without a reauthorized version, the original NCLB law and its mandate that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014 remain in effect. That means students, parents, and educators will grapple with its requirements for years to come.

The first five years of NCLB offer plenty of evidence of its reach and suggest five areas in which a revised law could offer improvements. Though the law is quick to divide schools into those that perform well and those that don't, there appear to be few consequences for the latter. Its regimen of standard tests seems particularly inappropriate for students who are learning English as a second language and the schools that enroll them. Teachers are worried that their income will be tied to how their students score on the tests. Schools have little incentive to teach gifted students to meet their potential. And the academic measurements for this federal law vary widely from state to state.

There are ways each of these concerns could be addressed. Whether the political will exists to make such changes happen is debatable.

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