No child, no chance?

August 4, 2013 

So House Republicans have approved a bill to dismantle the federal No Child Left Behind law that, ironically, was a product of the George W. Bush White House.

See if any of the following changes in law sound familiar: Schools would not be required to evaluate teachers; districts and state would set academic standards and govern what to do about them, not the feds; cut more than $1 billion from public education funding next year; do away with federal annual accountability system requiring a measure of yearly progress; cancel the requirement that federal education funds are used by states as additions to local and state dollars to help low income and minority students, not to replace local and state funds.

What are the anti-public education ideologues in the House up to? They sound like people with objectives similar to North Carolina Republicans in the General Assembly, who are doing their best to change, and not for the better, public education in this state, a system that has served the progressive North Carolina well.

But our Republicans don’t like that North Carolina. They’d like to shift into reverse, and they’re about to get away with it.

In any case, No Child Left Behind has come under fire for its testing requirements, for not putting enough money in public schools once problems were discovered, for administrative problems.

But considering the widely varying quality of public education in this country, national standards and guidelines are not a bad idea, despite the ill will they may create in states that don’t want the federal government telling them what to do, even when those federal requirements might make public schools better.

Consider the unenlightened view of Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, a Republican: “Let’s get Washington out of the way to ensure a brighter future for our children.”

Washington didn’t get in the way to block out that brighter future. It got more involved (most power over public schools remains in the hands of local and state officials) because the quality of schools in this country was all over the map, from top public schools with stellar records of sending students on to academic glory to those schools, generally in poor areas, where students lacked the basic supplies to get even the minimum work done.

The federal program was designed not just to set standards, but to ensure states and localities were meeting them. That’s why the White House has threatened to veto this ridiculous and damaging effort from House Republicans.

As it happens, and Republicans will chuckle sarcastically at this, of course, one of the leaders in the No Child movement was the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. But another leader in the fight was current House Speaker John Boehner.

It’s hard to see the evil here. Among other requirements, the law required that all students be able to do math and read at their grade level by 2014. There have been waivers granted to states that aren’t meeting that goal, but at least the goal is there. And taking the requirement away will guarantee that efforts to meet that standard fall by the wayside.

There’s no secret here that dismantling of these rules is part of a larger agenda. Many of the most conservative Republicans have long wanted to abolish the federal Department of Education. One, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, made that a centerpiece of his campaign. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending upon one’s point of view, Perry couldn’t remember the three departments he vowed to abolish during a live Republican presidential primary debate. (He did remember Education was one of them, though.)

Standards are good. Standards are needed. No Child should not be dismantled without something just as strong to replace it.

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