NCLB has another major flaw. Each state was left to its own devices in setting standards and establishing its assessment vehicle. Consequently, there is a huge disparity between state performances when compared to a national benchmark such as the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). This development is what has caused Education Secretary Arne Duncan to speak to the duplicity that some state education systems have perpetrated on the American public. By lowering the cut points required to pass state tests, many states show an impressive percentage of their students performing above the required standard—but that performance does not parallel the results obtained by those states on the NAEP.
These apparent flaws in NCLB have led to the Common Core Standards initiative and the attempt to establish one national, if not federal, set of academic standards. Similarly, the federal government has invested heavily in two projects that are working to develop assessments that will measure students’ progress toward meeting the common standards. A national benchmark and a national assessment would be the only way to evade the disparity that currently exists between state performances. The Common Core Standards also could improve our standing in international tests, as we now compete against nations that generally have a national curriculum—while we have 50.
We also can blame the flaws in NCLB’s system of accountability for the current public school bashing so prevalent in our country. Recently, Secretary Duncan testified before a Congressional committee and stated that, with NCLB running its course, more than 80 percent of the schools in America will be failing to meet AYP this coming school year. This supports the general consensus held by the American public that our schools are failing … but that is not the case. As we state in our “95/5 Dilemma” blog, America’s public education system is the best that it has ever been. The five percent of our schools that are dysfunctional are defining the 95 percent of our schools that are not. But the growing number of schools failing to make AYP, not because of a lack of academic achievement but because of flaws in the accountability model, adds to the perception of general failure.
For these reasons and many others, we have called upon Congress and the administration to reauthorize ESEA as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that has not happened—and there is no indication that it will happen. The administration and the Democrats want to reauthorize ESEA in one fell swoop. The administration’s “Blueprint” set the parameters for that process two years ago. The Republicans, however, talk about reauthorizing in “chunks.” The House education committee recently put forth its first chunk, a piece of legislation that attempts to streamline the law by cutting in half the number of programs under ESEA.
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