NCLB Resistance Mushrooms

K-12 Testing

National resistance to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law continues to mushroom along with the numbers of schools labeled as “failing” to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). As the law’s expectations sink in, many have reactions similar to Wisconsin mother Ellen Akins. “It was largely a map of progressively rising proficiency levels, ultimately reaching 100 percent,” Akins said after hearing a description of NCLB. “Another mother and I looked at each other and laughed. She said, ‘Does this mean that by the time my daughter’s 16 she’ll never get anything wrong?’”


A study commissioned by the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) projected that the number of failing Connecticut schools will more than double by 2006 and reach 93 percent by 2014, when the law mandates that virtually all students reach the proficient level on state tests. The National Education Association (NEA) has calculated that one-third of the nation’s schools have already failed to meet AYP targets. That number is expected to rise over the next few years.


Legislators in more than 30 states have filed anti-NCLB bills of some kind, ranging from calls to opt out of the law completely to proposals for studying the cost of compliance. Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia passed legislation prohibiting the expenditure of any money on NCLB beyond what the states receive in federal funding. A similar bill in Maine was amended to allow districts to continue current spending practices if they do not conflict with Maine’s Learning Results. The amended bill also calls for a study of NCLB’s impact on state and local budgets.


States that have passed laws prohibiting the expenditure of state funds on NCLB were buoyed recently by an opinion from Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager. She said states have grounds to claim that NCLB violates one of its own provisions, which asserts that federal officials cannot “mandate that a state…spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under the act.”


The state teachers’ union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), called Lautenschlager’s statement “precedent setting,” welcoming the implication that states may sue the federal government over a law they and many others see as rigid, punitive and under-funded. The WEAC is an affiliate of the NEA, which has been looking for a state willing to sue the federal government over the failure to fully fund NCLB. Wisconsin’s chief education official, Elizabeth Burmaster, however, said she had no plans to sue the federal government.


In North Carolina, a coalition of ten organizations formed to press for changes to NCLB. The groups, including the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association, targeted the AYP provision, which they seek to change to a system that measures student gains from year to year.


Pennsylvania superintendents from 171 districts signed a position paper criticizing NCLB, saying “we deem it professional malpractice not to point out these system flaws.” The paper was signed by 336 superintendents, representing about two-thirds of the state’s 501 districts. The paper repeats the common complaint that the law is underfunded but also points to its unfairness toward special needs and limited English proficient students.


In Arkansas, the Research and Advocacy Network: A Consortium of School Districts, released a report raising a series of concerns about NCLB, including the unrealistic demands of AYP and lack of funding. The report included survey results indicating that 99 percent of 600 respondents believe students learn at different rates. Seventy-four percent said special needs students should not be required to meet the same standards as typical students.


Several opinion polls have indicated that support for NCLB diminishes as people learn more about the law’s details. For example, a national survey sponsored by Results for America found that while parents endorsed the overall concept of NCLB, their support evaporated when they considered what the law might mean specifically for their child’s school. Nearly three out of four said they oppose cutting federal funds to their children’s school if it were deemed to be failing, and only 13 percent favor linking federal funds to performance. The poll found these responses cut across demographics and party affiliation.


A more recent poll by the Public Education Network and Education Week confirmed these findings and showed growing voter opposition to NCLB. While the number of voters who said they had heard of the law grew from 56 percent last year to 75 percent this year, the percentage who say they oppose the law increased by 20 points. Celinda Lake, president of Lake Snell Perry & Associates, which conducted the survey, explained, “The more you know about NCLB, the less likely you are to be in favor of it.”


This was reflected at an NCLB forum for suburban parents in Minnesota, which one school administrator described as a “rebellion of moderate Republican soccer moms.” Parents at the forum lobbed tough questions about how the law will affect student learning, and questions critical of the initiative were reportedly greeted with cheers. “I think it is the crappiest piece of legislation the federal government has ever enacted,” said Charles Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. The Minnesota legislature is considering three bills challenging NCLB.