Back To School
August 23, 2005 - 10:25am ET
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Yesterday marked the first day of school for millions of students, and millions more will be returning to school in the coming weeks. In most cases, the curriculum they'll encounter in the classroom will be strongly influenced by the No Child Left Behind law, which requires yearly standards testing and intensive reading and math instruction. But all those standards require money, and yesterday Connecticut became the first state to sue the federal government for not providing the resources needed to implement NCLB programs.
Connecticut education officials are taking issue with the mandatory testing written into the NCLB law. They argue that the state's own every-other-year testing standards are sufficient, and that Connecticut can't expect its taxpayers to pick up the bill for federal requirements. It's not the substance of NCLB that's the problem, per se, but the fact that the Bush administration has required states to run programs it then refuses to fund. The lawsuit focuses on a NCLB clause that says states won't have to use their own money to fund NCLB programs. But the federal money provided will still leave Connecticut $41.6 million short of what's needed to cover standardized testing, staff costs and program development for the next three school years. And Connecticut isn't alone—one report found that 47 of 50 states are in "some stage of rebellion" over NCLB.
Most education experts don't argue with the idea of NCLB—though some think that it doesn't go far enough. And it's certainly possible that some states are rebelling because they don't want the responsibility of living up to NCLB's accountability standards. But NCLB's battery of testing doesn't change the way we educate children—and all the tests in the world can't change the outside factors that affect education. Testing won't help a child from a low-income family who has to worry about her safety walking to school or who hasn't had a medical checkup in years.
That's why the National Task Force on Public Education has spent the past year travelling around the country, talking to educators, parents and students and creating a plan that would fundamentally remake our education system. It would place schools at the center of the community and create a support network connecting families to social services and resources for parents. Rather than focusing on testing, it would focus on extending education time in the schools and educating every child from early childhood to post-high school. It's an ambitious plan—and, if it were to become policy, would face the same funding hurdles that stymie NCLB in the states now. But the results could be much more far-reaching and dramatic.
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