NCLB '99.9% Perfect'? States Beg to Differ

K-12 Testing
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings shocked many educators recently by claiming, "I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something. There's not much needed in the way of change."

Despite Spellings' rhetoric, one thing is clear: The portion of teachers, students, administrators and parents who disagree with Spellings' assessment is considerably greater than one in one thousand. Public opinion surveys show that as knowledge of the law increases, opposition climbs (see "Polls," this issue). Even President George W. Bush's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, has called for NCLB reform, saying, "With all due respect to the federal system, our accountability system is really the better way to go."

Among others who differ with Spellings are the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the more than 90 national education, civil rights and religious groups who have signed the "Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind Act". Communities for Quality Education (CQE) ( has catalogued efforts in all 50 states to take action to fix No Child Left Behind since 2003. Many of these legislative proposals focus on NCLB's inadequate funding, but others seek substantive revisions or call for a state to opt out of NCLB entirely.

According to Scott Young, a senior policy analyst for CQE, there has been a sustained level of opposition from state legislatures in the past year-61 measures to reform NCLB, a new high, have been introduced in 24 states. Young said there is also a trend toward states getting more prescriptive about changes they'd like to see made to NCLB, asking for specific kinds of flexibility or challenging the law in technical areas.

Among the most significant recent state actions:

  • The Virginia State Assembly passed three out of four bills filed to reform aspects of NCLB. One of the bills, HB1427, directs the state Board of Education to develop a plan to eliminate initiatives or conditions that are funded by NCLB, unless they are an integral or necessary component of the Commonwealth's own Standards of Quality.
  • In Kansas, a resolution cosponsored by every member of the state Senate urges Congress to "make a serious commitment to education by substantially increasing funding and to provide states waivers from NCLB when funding is not adequate."
  • NCLB succeeded in unifying moderates and conservatives on the fractious Kansas Board of Education (BOE). The BOE agreed in September to look at what the consequences would be if the state refused federal funding and "disengaged" from NCLB. They also plan to lobby Congress to change the law. "Certainly, there are a lot of things wrong with No Child Left Behind," said BOE Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican.
  • Legislators in Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota have introduced resolutions urging Congress and President Bush to amend NCLB in accordance with the recommendations of the National Conference of State Legislatures NCLB task force (available at
  • A bill calling for Minnesota to opt out of NCLB is in its second reading in the state Senate. Meanwhile, the Senate is also considering a resolution urging the President and Congress to repeal the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
  • The state of Connecticut's suit opposing NCLB as an unfunded mandate was kept alive in September, when U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz ruled that it should be narrowed down to focus on the claim that the secretary of education's denial of an exemption to the law's testing requirements was arbitrary. The U.S. Department of Education welcomed the judge's decision to trim three of Connecticut's claims from the suit, but state officials were also pleased that the suit will continue. "The judge has preserved our rights to pursue our claim that the secretary is violating our rights, so we're alive and well," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. A bill was introduced in Rhode Island in March asking the attorney general to join with the attorney general in Connecticut in its lawsuit against NCLB.
  • The National Education Association has appealed U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman's dismissal in November 2005 of its case against NCLB's unfunded mandates. Supporting the NEA's appeal are the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, the Pennsylvania governor, and the American Association of School Administrators.