PHILADELPHIA — The No Child Left Behind Act has wreaked havoc on our nation’s public school system, according to state lawmakers. A bipartisan panel of state legislators issued a scathing report, Feb. 23, on President Bush’s education law, calling it unworkable, inflexible, impractical and unconstitutional. The report accuses NCLB of setting unobtainable goals and not funding the demands it makes.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, which issued the report after studying the law for 10 months, has a membership of 3,657 Republicans, 3,656 Democrats and about 25 independents from all 50 states.

The panel held hearings in Washington, Chicago, Salt Lake City, New York, Santa Fe, N.M., Portland, Ore., and Savannah, Ga., as part of its research.

NCLB is supposed to close the achievement gap that exists between students of different races, income levels, ethnicities, English-language abilities and cognitive abilities. While in agreement with the goal of closing achievement gaps, the report vigorously questions how the law is applied and the punishments it administers to schools that fail to meet the goals.

NCLB mandates that 100 percent of all students in all 50 states be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a goal that is “not statistically achievable,” the report states. California estimates that 99 percent of its schools will be labeled “failing” by 2014 if NCLB is not changed.

The report’s criticisms include:

• Standardized tests are an inadequate measurement of student and school achievement.

• Progress measurement is flawed because successive groups of students are judged instead of the same students being monitored from year to year.

• Students with limited English take English-only tests.

• Special education students take tests at grade level, instead of at ability level, which contradicts another federal law — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

• Federal funding does not cover NCLB costs.

• The law is inflexible and does not recognize “unique challenges” faced by urban and rural districts.

• NCLB is unconstitutional and greatly expands federal powers.

• The law “creates too many ways to ‘fail’ and therefore spreads resources too thinly over too many schools and reduces the chances that schools that truly are in need of improvement can be helped.”

Nine legislatures plan to legally challenge NCLB. An Illinois school distric is presently suing the U.S. Department of Education.

Why has NCLB set up the public schools of our country to be failures? Critics charge that the answer is clear: The Bush administration passed NCLB with the aim of destroying public education. It aims to pass a national voucher bill and transfer billions of dollars in public funds to the private sector.

Bush has publicly announced to private and parochial schools that “help is on the way.” Education Management Organizations (EMOs) have been hired in Pennsylvania and other states to manage failing schools. The EMOs intend to profit from public education the way HMOs have profited from health care.

NCLB mandates that failing schools offer their parents the opportunity to transfer to a “successful” school. It does not offer additional resources to the failing school. But the task force notes that urban and rural school districts do not have enough places available in their successful schools. Where are these students to go? NCLB tells the states to restructure, privatize or turn their failing schools into charter schools.

The last chapter of the report explains that the additional federal funding barely covers the additional cost of compliance and administration. Funding for tutoring and remediation is inadequate. Compliance with NCLB is coerced.

When Utah considered non-participation with NCLB, Utah officials were told that the state would lose its Title I funding as well as other funding for after school and literacy programs. “Punishing states financially violates the spirit of state-federal partnership,” said Minnesota Sen. Steve Kelley, the panel’s Demo-cratic co-chair.

Members of the task force met with Assistant Secretary of Education Ray Simon to discuss the report and its recommendations. Simon said, “The report could be interpreted as wanting to reverse the progress we have made, and we will not reverse course.”

The No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization in 2007. New York Sen. Stephen M. Saland, the panel’s Republican co-chair, says that the task force hopes to persuade Congress to change NCLB before that time.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

• Congress conduct its own study to understand why NCLB is called an unfunded mandate.

• Congress create a new state-federal partnership rather than using coercion and punishment to force its “one size fits all” policies on the diverse school districts in all the states.

• Student progress be tracked from year to year.

• Standardized tests be only one part of measuring achievement in addition to class work.

• States be allowed to determine how students are tested.

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