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NCLB Should Ease Universal Proficiency Targets, New Book Argues; Focus Instead on Greater Educational Opportunity

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Published: 2/28/2008 10:34:00 AM

With just six years left for all students nationwide to achieve proficiency in math and reading as required by federal law, two leading experts on educational equity say the target should be scrapped before its rhetorical intent “is undermined by the frustration of mounting failures.”

The experts -- Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff, respectively executive director and policy director of The Campaign for Educational Equity, based at Teachers College, Columbia University -- argue that the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) should be restructured to provide all students with a range of opportunities and resources, both in and out of the classroom, which they believe are essential to learning.

“In place of the impossible goal of 100 percent proficiency, Congress should establish as its mandatory goal for 2014 the more achievable aim of providing meaningful educational opportunity for all children by that time,” write Rebell and Wolff in their new book, Moving Every Child Ahead: From NCLB Hype to Meaningful Educational Opportunity (Teachers College Press, 2008). “The term ‘proficiency’ should be redefined to emphasize consistent progress toward high levels of achievement, rather than absolute attainment of a concrete level of performance at a definite point in time. Each state’s adequate yearly progress should also be judged in terms of the extent to which the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students are reduced.”

On Wednesday, March 5th, from 3:30 to 5 p.m., Rebell - the former lead attorney for the plaintiff in New York State’s educational adequacy lawsuit - will present the book’s main points at Teachers College, 525 West 120th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, in 179 Grace Dodge Hall.  His presentation is part of The Campaign for Educational Equity’s “Equity in Education Forum Series.”  

TC professor Arlene Ackerman, recently named Superintendent of the Philadelphia public school system, will moderate a discussion between Jack Jennings, President of the Center on Education Policy, and Thomas L. Rogers, Executive Director, New York State Council of State Superintendents, in response to Rebell’s presentation.

Moving Every Child Ahead draws on a symposium Rebell chaired in 2006 for The Campaign for Educational Equity. Among the findings presented at that event:

Rebell and Wolff argue that - given the recent retreat of the U.S. Supreme Court from school integration - policymakers and educators must remedy “the scandalous deficiencies in human and material resource in many of our inner-city and rural schools.

“At the root of ’s achievement gaps are the significant opportunity gaps endured by millions of low-income and minority students,” the authors assert. “NCLB is falling far short of achieving its ambitious goals because it mainly concentrates on accountability for results but neglects the resources and supports students need to achieve these results.”

In the numerous educational adequacy lawsuits waged in states across the country, experts have arrived at a consensus definition of those resources and supports, Rebell and Wolff argue, and performed sophisticated studies of the costs. The definition includes:

Education must emphasize not only traditional academics and problem solving skills, Rebell and Wolff argue, but also social skills and work ethic; citizenship and community responsibility; physical and emotional health; the arts and literature; and preparation for skilled work. It must employ effective teachers, principals and other personnel; offer appropriately sized classes, adequate school facilities and rich and rigorous curricula; and provide guidance services, after-school, weekend and summer programming, tutoring and additional time on task for students from high-poverty backgrounds. It must have appropriate programs for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. It must provide up-to-date textbooks, libraries, laboratories and computers. And it must maintain a safe, orderly environment for learning.

Finally the authors argue that, just as federal law requires schools to support disabled students beyond the classroom, a revamped NCLB must support high-poverty children “with specific out-of-school educational essentials, including:

The Equity in Education Forum Series addresses the state of knowledge in 12 fields related to closing the nation’s school achievement gap and identify areas for future inquiry. The topics of the Equity and Education range from multilingualism and pre-schooling to schools within schools and public health.


The Campaign for Educational Equity, based at Teachers College, University,  is committed to expanding and strengthening the national movement for quality public education for all by providing research-based analyses of key education policy issues. The Campaign promotes educational equity through focused research, raising awareness of equity issues within Teachers College and to external audiences, rapid dissemination of research
and relevant information, and demonstrations of improved policy and practice.

The largest graduate school of education in the nation, Teachers College is affiliated with , but it is legally and financially independent. The editors of News and World Report have ranked Teachers College as the nation's leading graduate schools of education in the country.

Teachers College is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education and overcoming the gap in educational access and achievement between the most and least advantaged groups in this country. Through
scholarly programs of teaching, research, and service, the College draws upon the expertise from a diverse community of faculty in education, psychology and health, as well as students and staff from across the country
and around the world.  

For more information, please visit the college's Web site at