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The Gaps Don't Seem to Be Closing

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Published: 11/21/2006

Most at TC's Equity Symposium agree: NCLB isn't living up to its name

"The researchers and discussants gathered here will focus on the most central concern in education today: the achievement gap between wealthier, primarily white students and those from poor and typically minority backgrounds. And they will do so in the context of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the most sweeping educational legislation in our nation's history.

"NCLB's goals are widely shared, but as we experience how the states are putting it into practice, concerns are being raised. Hopefully this symposium will generate new information that not only will help people in the field, but also inform the policy makers who are going to be debating the reauthorization of the law in 2007."  

Thus Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman set the stage for a two-day marathon in which researchers presented new data about NCLB and debated whether and how to fix the law, which was first enacted in 2002. NCLB is now nearly halfway to its target date of 2014, by which time the law stipulates that all U.S. students must be proficient in reading and math.

"Nothing is sacred, and we'll look at the Act in very profound and hard-hitting ways," said Michael Rebell, Executive Director of The Campaign for Educational Equity, which was convening the event. Other organizations, including a special commission of the Aspen Institute that has been holding hearings on NCLB, have also analyzed the law, Rebell said, "but they've already said they won't deal with issues of whether the law is inadequately funded and whether the 100 percent proficiency target is a practical goal. We will, and we're looking forward to rousing participatory discussions."

Rebell's own verdict was that NCLB, while created ostensibly to safeguard the equity vision inherent in the Supreme Court's landmark school desegregation decision, isn't living up to its name. "NCLB's aims are good ones, but aspects of the law appear to be undermining that vision," Rebell said -- and over the next two days, nine studies, presented by a slate of leading educational researchers, seemed to bear out his assessment, detailing poor progress under NCLB on student achievement, teacher quality, accountability and federal oversight.

Among the key findings:

More positively, the Symposium revealed enduring sentiment among many school leaders and members of minority groups that NCLB's stated goals are ensuring that the needs of low-achieving students are not being ignored (see accompanying story). The researchers also reported some preliminary indications that the law may benefiting special education students by setting higher performance expectations that, in turn, require stronger curriculum and closer performance monitoring.

"NCLB and Its Alternatives" was convened by The Campaign for Educational Equity on November 13th and 14th and sponsored by the Laurie M. Tisch Foundation. Among its additional findings: