A Vote for 'No Child'
BLAMING NO Child Left Behind for failures of public education seems to be in vogue these days. The Bush administration act, which mandates measurement of public school performance, is a favorite whipping boy of interest groups and the politicians who cater to them. So it was refreshing to hear a leading liberal Democrat speak passionately about his commitment to this landmark law. More important was the promise by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who heads the House education committee, to fight for the bill's reauthorization this year.
Mr. Miller's leadership, and that of Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in the Senate, will be key if the gains of No Child Left Behind are to be sustained and extended. In a speech last week, Mr. Miller made clear his intention to move a bill next month. If Congress doesn't act this year, prospects will dim as the law, already under attack from both right and left, bogs down in presidential politics. The law probably would continue under an automatic one-year extension, but lost would be the chance to make improvements essential to its long-term viability.
There is no question that No Child Left Behind has brought accountability to America's classrooms. In the past, schools could claim overall success while masking the failures of poor and minority children; No Child Left Behind doesn't allow any group to be ignored. But Mr. Miller is right in saying that students are still not achieving as they should and that there are flaws in the law. Certainly there is an argument for more flexibility in rewarding schools that have improved student achievement but still fall short of proficiency goals. It is encouraging that Mr. Miller wants to toughen state standards, focus more attention on high schools, improve the quality of tests and pay more to teachers more who perform better. That he is willing to take on the issue of teacher pay is especially important, given the opposition and clout of the National Education Association.
The true worth of Mr. Miller's proposal depends, of course, on the details. His suggestion that annual state tests not be the sole measure of student and school performance could be problematic, depending on the fine print. Basic reading and math skills are essential, and any retreat from holding schools accountable for how students perform in these key areas is unacceptable. More credit to Mr. Miller if he is able to push for better measures and assessments. But as one of the law's original sponsors six years ago, he should know that to let states wriggle out of accountability on the basics would betray the mission of No Child Left Behind.