What Will the Election Mean for NCLB?

K-12 Testing

The election of President Bush to a second four-year term will undoubtedly make it more difficult to win major changes in the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In fact, Bush intends to expand federally-mandated testing to additional grades in high school. Most Congressional Republicans are likely to continue to support NCLB so long as Bush is president.


However, NCLB is far from a partisan issue: The Democratic Congressional leaders in education - Senator Edward Kennedy and Rep. George Miller - helped craft the law. While both have sharply criticized NCLB funding as well as some aspects of its implementation, both have helped stymie efforts by other Democrats seeking somewhat stronger alterations to the law.


During debate over initial NCLB passage, both Democrats (particularly most Black and Hispanic representatives) and Republicans (particularly those who viewed NCLB as too intrusive) voted for amendments to block some of the testing requirements, such as increasing the testing burden to grades 3-8 inclusive. At the state and local levels, criticisms have come from school board members and legislators from both parties. Democrats have been critical of low funding and, at times, the testing and sanctions provisions, while Republicans have focused on unfunded mandates and federal intrusion, which sometimes includes testing and sanctions provisions that contradict state policies.


With Congressional leaders now opposing changes in NCLB, there appears little likelihood of major modifications prior to the law’s reauthorization in 2007. Minor revisions to help states reduce the number of schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” are more plausible in the short term. But, without significant action, the accelerating growth toward near-universal “failure” and growing issues of what to do with “failing” schools and districts will become increasingly important politically.


2006 is a mid-term election year. Obviously, a host of variables will intervene, from Iraq to the economy and beyond. Nonetheless, it is quite possible that NCLB will have become a hot issue in many states, one that could affect electoral outcomes. In these circumstances, meaningful changes to NCLB are more likely.


To create such a climate will require at least two things: First, the anger of NCLB must grow and focus on the policymakers with the authority to overhaul it. Second, there must be coherent alternatives with which to replace NCLB, proposals that can win a wide range of support.


The recent Joint Statement that education and civil rights groups delivered to Congress is a significant step on both fronts (see story, p. 1). Indeed, unity among education, civil rights, child advocacy, parent and community organizations will be critical if we are to have a chance at success. These groups must educate, organize and mobilize. FairTest will continue to focus on this issue, building on our criticisms of the law and promoting alternatives, as in the report, Failing Our Children (on the web at www.fairtest.org/Failing_Our_Children_Report.html).