A grassroots movement calling for widespread reform of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has launched a new web site intended to highlight how communities are faring under the law. The results, they say, are anything but encouraging.

Largely a collection of newspaper articles culled from local and national sources, the site —www.nclbgrassroots.org — contends NCLB, although well-intentioned, “is having profoundly negative effects” on public education.

Its findings are contrary to assertions by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige that “the debate about this law [NCLB] is over.” Paige rendered that assessment during his annual Back-to-School address Sept. 24 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “No Child Left Behind is here. And it is here to stay. And it is working,” said Paige, who has heavily promoted the law since it was signed by President Bush in 2001.

The Secretary’s remarks came just four months after the Education Commission of the States released a much-publicized report that said only five states–Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania–were on course to fully implement the law (See story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5214). The Commission’s findings were extracted from a national database built with $2 million in U.S. Department of Education (ED) grant money.

ED officials declined to comment for this story.

Critics, however, contend NCLB has been poorly received by schools. They say the sweeping federal legislation focuses too heavily on testing and undermines the efforts of students and teachers in struggling schools by labeling them as “failing.”

Andrea Camp, senior fellow at the Civil Society Institute (CSI)–the Massachusetts-based public policy group sponsoring the anti-NCLB site–says the law has failed to address what amounts to a fundamental difference between demanding higher test scores and demonstrating a positive effect on real-world learning.

“We think that NCLB, as a broad policy, is not working,” said Camp. CSI is calling on policy makers to change the law.

“A punitive approach to school reform has only led to more failure in our nation’s schools. How to foster success produces a radically different conversation than how to punish those who do not meet minimalist standards,” Pam Solo, CSI’s president and CEO, told eSchool News. “We want a commitment to both a process and a new approach to education reform that will lead to engaged learning, skills-based education that will truly prepare kids for the next century–for active involvement in our democracy—and a new global marketplace.”

Camp called the site a tool to help educators, parents, and other concerned stakeholders get a better handle on how communities are dealing with the law. Coupled with the materials distributed through ED’s own NCLB web site, Camp said NCLBgrassroots will give stakeholders “a much fuller picture of what’s going on.” The site is organized both by state and by issue so visitors can track the communities and issues that are most important to them.

In building the site, Camp said CSI consulted with a broad range of groups–including parents, teachers, and administrators–regarding their thoughts on the legislation.

Ken Rolling, executive director of Parents for Public Schools, a national organization of community-based chapters dedicated to increasing enrollments in public education, said many parents and community members don’t share the Bush Administration’s enthusiasm for the law.

Despite its good intentions, “there really is something not quite right with the way NCLB is being carried out,” he said.

Rollings said parents view the law as “disruptive.” He cited concerns about unfunded mandates, especially provisions that require schools to provide high-quality teachers and optional transfers to students stuck in low-performing schools. “In order to do what the mandates require, we’re going to need a lot more resources,” he said.

Critics also have assailed NCLB for narrowing the curriculum options available to teachers, giving the federal government too much leverage over state and local education policies, undermining the progress of traditionally low-performing schools, and for failing to provide clear standards for gauging adequate yearly progress.

Rollings predicts the grassroots movement will give stakeholders a much a clearer sense of what’s going on with the law in other parts of the country. Communities shouldn’t feel alone when dealing with these problems, he said.

The site features a petition asking Congress to overhaul the law. Drafted by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, the document calls on lawmakers to “reduce reliance on standardized, one-size-fits-all testing as the principal measure of student and school progress.”

Instead of making decisions based solely on test scores, the petition says, a variety of assessments should allow students to demonstrate their knowledge through daily classroom work.

Another feature of the NCLBgrassroots web site–“Letters to the Prez”–asks opponents of the law to write letters suggesting improvements to current education policy, which the group has promised to submit to the next president for consideration.

Since Sept. 15, NCLBgrassroots recorded approximately 61,000 hits to its web site, reported Camp, adding that she expects traffic to increase as word of the site gets out.

Links:

NCLBgrassroots
http://www.nclbgrassroots.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

ED’s NCLB homepage
http://www.ed.gov/nclb/

Civil Society Institute
http://www.civilsocietyinstitute.org/

Education Commission of the States
http://www.ecs.org/