This fall, Congress will evaluate and potentially reauthorize the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. This will be tantamount to grading education. It is important for all Americans to remember that comprehensive reform is necessary to restore our international educational edge. This reauthorization cannot deteriorate to another referendum on President Bush’s popularity. We should not allow the fate of this landmark legislation to be guided by partisan political agendas.
The real question for Washington is whether our national leaders will have the courage to combine all the resources available to the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch of our government to solve our problems. Young Americans cannot read well. Young Americans are falling behind international students in advanced scientific studies. We lost our competitive edge. Something dramatic must be done!
But why start over? A key question that Congress must debate concerning in the NCLB is whether to continue increasing the federal government's authority over education or to turn the control of American schools back to local communities and their citizens.
I believe that there must be a savvy use of the following elements to improve our educational system:
1. powerful public schools
2. competitive charter schools
3. voucher programs where appropriate
4. world-class private education
5. teacher accountability
NCLB increased federal authority by giving Congress and the U.S. Department of Education new powers to set policies governing America's public schools. The Heritage Foundation (among other groups) cites that one of the unintended consequences of this legislation is the weakening of state testing and “academic transparency.”
Despite the fact the NCLB only represented 8.5% of the total funding for public education, some constituencies were accused of reaching for the dollars – while compromising effective educational processes. Some states lowered standards, others changed how tests were evaluated, and many regions attempted to keep parents from understanding what their children were actually learning. Some groups have dubbed these changes as a “race towards the bottom.”
As states respond to the pressure of NCLB testing by lowering state standards, parents, citizens, and policymakers are denied basic information about student performance in America's schools. The loss of academic transparency will hinder parents from knowing whether or not their children are learning and will prevent policymakers from judging how well public schools are performing.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.