Scores Up Since 'No Child' Was Signed

Christopher Poulos, left, Connecticut's teacher of the year, state Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings at a meeting on the No Child Left Behind law in Stamford, Conn., last week.
Christopher Poulos, left, Connecticut's teacher of the year, state Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings at a meeting on the No Child Left Behind law in Stamford, Conn., last week. (By Bob Child -- Associated Press)

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By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The nation's students have performed significantly better on state reading and math tests since President Bush signed his landmark education initiative into law five years ago, according to a major independent study released yesterday.

The study's authors warned that it is difficult to say whether or how much the No Child Left Behind law is driving the achievement gains. But Republican and Democratic supporters of the law said the findings indicate that it has been a success. Some said the findings bolster the odds that Congress will renew the controversial law this year.

"This study confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation's schools and students," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. "We know the law is working, so now is the time to reauthorize."

The report, which experts called the most comprehensive analysis of test data from all 50 states since 2002, concluded that the achievement gap between black and white students is shrinking in many states and that the pace of student gains increased after the law was enacted. The findings were particularly significant because of their source: the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, which in recent years has issued several reports that have found fault with aspects of the law's implementation.

Jack Jennings, president of the District-based center and a former Democratic congressional aide, said a decade of school improvement efforts at local, state and national levels has contributed to achievement gains.

"No Child Left Behind, though, is clearly part of the mix of reforms whose fruit we are now seeing," he said.

Some skeptics said the study overstated the extent of academic gains. Others said the law should not be credited for the positive results.

"There are a lot of problems with No Child Left Behind that we need to fix because they work against some of the progress that is being noted in this study," said Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a 1.3 million-member union.

The law requires all public school students to be tested in reading and math every year from grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and it prescribes a series of sanctions on schools that do not make adequate progress. States and the District are allowed to design their own tests and set their own standards.

President Bush and senior Democratic lawmakers are seeking to renew No Child Left Behind this year, despite mounting attacks on the law from the political left and right. Some conservative Republicans call the law an unnecessary expansion of federal government, and some liberal Democrats complain it has placed too much emphasis on high-stakes tests and discouraged creativity.

Key lawmakers worry that if the law is not reauthorized by year's end, it will become next to impossible to do so until a new president takes office in 2009. One crucial sign of progress or stalemate is whether the congressional education committees approve a bill before the August recess.

Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees elementary and secondary education, plans to review the center's study with Jennings in a hearing tomorrow.


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