Education Groups Call for Relief from NCLB Mandates

Three national education organizations, including the National Education Association (NEA), petitioned the Department of Education this week to use its regulatory powers to stop further harm to the nation’s public schools due to the so-called “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law.

The law is overdue for revision and there is a growing consensus that its punitive provisions are hurting rather than helping the effort to improve education, but there’s no consensus in Congress on how to change it, so the law remains in effect.

On Friday, NEA sent the Department of Education a detailed list of changes that would help schools avoid some of the harm and focus on doing what’s right for children while waiting for Congressional action. Earlier in the week, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) warned that the nation’s schools are headed for a train wreck due to runaway NCLB formulas that bear no relationship to reality.

Under NCLB, three quarters of America’s schools will be labeled “failing” this year. Last March, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave Congress an even higher estimate of the “failure” rate: 82 percent.

A few days after Duncan’s testimony, President Barack Obama said these figures prove the law is wrong. “That’s an astonishing number,” Obama said. “We know that four out of five schools in this country aren’t failing. So what we’re doing to measure success and failure is out of line.” He called on Congress to change the law.

The reason for these predicted failure rates is the NCLB mandate that 100 percent of students in the United States be “proficient” in math and language arts. Schools must raise their proficiency rates until they reach the target in 2014.

No country has ever come close to 100 percent proficiency, but when the law was passed in 2001, the target seemed far in the future. However, 2014 is approaching. States must now jack up their standards and impose penalties on schools that “fail.”

At a press conference this week, Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of the AASA and Anne l. Bryant, Executive Director of NSBA, said that unless Congress acts quickly to change NCLB, Secretary Duncan should use his regulatory powers to stop further harm to the nation’s public schools.

“We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] requirements,” the joint statement said.

NEA’s separate letter detailed changes in the regulations that would make it possible for more schools to live with the NCLB mandates.

“We are gravely concerned that the quality and integrity of school systems nationwide are suffering unnecessarily and will continue to do so without swift action by the Department to offer specific avenues of relief,” the NEA letter said.

Among the regulation changes NEA proposed was to revise the one-size-fits-all approach under which a school where one subgroup of students doesn’t meet the state standard is treated the same as a school whose entire student body doesn’t meet the standard.

Another unwinnable situation targeted by NEA: Under current regulations, parents have the right to decide not to have their children tested, but if they do, the whole school may be penalized. NEA said students who don’t take the test because parents object should not be counted under the law’s 95 percent attendance mandate.

NEA also said students with disabilities should be tested in line with their Individual Education Plans, without the current arbitrary limits on how many can be assessed by alternate or modified standards and still have their scores count for accountability purposes.

More information on NEA’s position on NCLB/ESEA