One of President Bush's legacies that will be judged harshly in the future is his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program that presumably was going to bring America's school systems up to a national standard of performance.
The first mistake, however, was made in 1979 when President Carter signed the Department of Education into existence. The Constitution recognizes that education is the business of the States and local communities. Not once is education ever mentioned as a responsibility of the federal government.
NCLB is one of those horrid monster federal programs that is always devoted to noble goals, spends tons of money, and achieves nothing of value.
EdWatch, a non-profit organization has been struggling for years to put the spotlight on a whole range of awful things being done to children in our schools, from encouraging the drugging of students deemed "over-active" to the introduction of a United Nations program teaching a one-world concept in conflict with the values of national sovereignty.
The Act is up for reauthorization and, as of this writing not much is happening. Chairman George Miller of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee has been circulating changes designed to combat what he calls "the soft bigotry of low expectations." That is clever rhetoric, but all parents and all teachers have high expectations. NCLB is the great leveler of expectations.
Most certainly NCLB, for all its threats of retribution against any school that failed to improve, has proven "more shadow than substance" according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.
Equally damning is the revelation by the Cato Institute's Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, who recently wrote that, "While NCLB hasn't improved achievement or closed the gaps, it has succeeded in making public schools far more expensive to operate...we seem to have wasted almost $100 billion since NCLB was enacted."
In effect since 2001, the nation's school administrators and teachers have long since learned how to game the NCLB system, but the losers are the students. Whether it is students for whom English is a second language and need extra help or whether it is exceptional students, both end up losing out because NCLB forces a single standard of proficiency on all students and schools.
Tom DeWeese, founder of the American Policy Center, points out that NCLB (1) forces teachers to 'teach to the test' rather than raise student achievement levels; (2) enforces accountability to federal agencies rather than to parents, voters, and the local community; (3) is a federal curriculum robbing local control of schools; (4) requires yearly progress demonstrating all students achieve at a certain level, thus insuring that certain levels will either be impossible for every student to achieve or so low as to be meaningless. Or both. And, finally, (5) NCLB insures compliance with international United Nations programs that have no place in U.S. classrooms.
Anyone who has ever taught will tell you that students learn at their own rates and, in urban schools, students face a wide range of obstacles beginning with broken families and dangerous neighborhoods. As U.S. News & World Report notes, "To be fair, most schools are not failing. But federal auditors recently found that the number of schools facing federal sanctions is growing. This affects more than two million children, about eight percent of all federally funded schools."
If a school is failing, that's the chief concern of the local board of education. It should not be subject to some federal program. The amount of money the federal government spends on education is low compared to the amount spent at the state and community level. Education is one of the prime elements of property taxes throughout the nation. These are local matters.
The intrusion of the federal government into the education of children is just one more example of how big government has a genius for making anything worse than before.
Accountability for education should be to parents, voters, and taxpayers. NCLB literally removes the power of those most concerned from being involved in the process of their children's education.
Finally, as noted, the goal by 2014 of having all students achieve a certain level is either going to be impossible or be set so low as to be meaningless, or both.
The best thing that Congress can do is to admit NCLB is a bad, flawed, failed program that should be discontinued. The worst prospect will be that more money will be thrown at it and the education of America's children will be laid waste when Congress reauthorizes it.