NCLB Opposition Grows, Work Remains

K-12 Testing

Connecticut’s suit against the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is the most high profile among many nationwide acts of resistance that show no signs of abating.


A recent report from the Civil Society Institute concluded that 47 out of 50 states have already engaged in some kind of NCLB protest. But there are miles to go before opponents can rest assured that Congress will act to improve the law when NCLB comes up for reauthorization in 2007.


Reformers can look at the array of acts of NCLB resistance for ideas on how they too can take up the battle for better approaches to assessment and accountability.


At least 21 states have considered anti-NCLB legislation, and seven—Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia—have passed such bills. State legislatures have pursued varying lines of attack, with Utah legislators voting overwhelmingly to give state law precedence over NCLB, Colorado lawmakers upholding the right of districts to opt out, and New Mexico calling on Congress to increase funding for NCLB. Maine lawmakers took a three-pronged approach: directing the attorney general to sue if NCLB funds are insufficient; voting to withhold state funds to carry out NCLB requirements; and calling for a study of impacts if the state were to opt out of the law.


Four-fifths of the states have sought waivers and exemptions from NCLB requirements, with federal officials clearly motivated to calm the storm of opposition by granting requests that make it easier for some states to report Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (see story, p. 10).


Connecticut is not alone in litigating. A National Education Association suit charges that NCLB is an unfunded mandate. Twelve California districts have sued over the state’s policy of requiring limited English proficient students to be tested in English for NCLB accountability (see Examiner, Spring 2005), and a judge has already dismissed a suit filed by two Illinois districts that charged NCLB is in fundamental conflict with the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


Many states are trying to nail down the costs of implementing NCLB, with 14 participating in an “NCLB Cost Consortium” created by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Connecticut and New Mexico finished their own cost studies; Connecticut found NCLB will cost the state $41.6 million more than it receives in federal funds through 2008. Virginia calculated that NCLB cost the state more than $61 million in the past year.


A study commissioned by Massachusetts Partners for Public Schools predicted that three-quarters of the state’s schools will ultimately fail to make AYP by the deadline of 2014. This is consistent with studies predicting large failure rates in other states.


Tip of the Iceberg
Resistance offered by state and district officials is the tip of the iceberg. For example, hundreds of editorials and letters to the editor have been written by students, parents and teachers, many eloquent in their denunciation of the law’s approach. Lisa Dolasinski, recent winner of a Connect for Kids student essay competition, put it like this:


“Students in affluent schools, boasting good scores, will continue to receive a full range of subjects including art, social studies, and science. Condemned to a second class lifestyle and education, impoverished students must put ‘reading first,’ missing out on a varied, enriched learning experience. With all this focus on literacy, one group is limited to a lean diet of basic skills while the other will receive the more complete diet associated with power and success in this society.”


Such eloquence, combined with widespread discontent as exemplified by the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB (now signed by 60 national education and civil rights groups), can become a powerful force. What is not yet clear is how this energy will coalesce and push Congress to overhaul NCLB.


• The Civil Society Institute’s NCLB resistance report is at
• The Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB is at www.
• For more details on Connecticut, see web-only Examiner story at
• A growing number of bills have been introduced in Congress to alter NCLB. The National Education Association lists 25 that it supports.