Attack on 'No Child Left Behind' Underway

In opposing the strict federal education law, state education leaders seek to take control by defying requirements.
by | June 30, 2011

This is not a test, say Idaho school officials. It's a threat.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has announced that he plans to disregard the controversial No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law because it’s failing.

Under NCLB, schools are supposed to identify underperforming schools as determined by test scores. The law has been taking hits from across the country since its implementation. But Idaho’s act of defiance could trigger a new trend of more states choosing to ditch the strict requirements. The Associated Press reported that Luna sees the law as a “stumbling block to continued improvement in raising student achievement."

The overdue overhaul of the education law recently started in the U.S. House, where the House Education and the Workforce Committee are addressing it with a series of bills. Sweeping change on the federal level, however, seems unlikely. But state leaders are taking stands. Luna sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week, stating his plans to launch a statewide accountability system to measure student progress. Per NPR:

Now, technically, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could punish Idaho if the state refuses to obey the law. But Duncan may have encouraged this reaction by announcing recently that he would grant waivers to states that could not meet the law's standards. Duncan said he had no choice because Congress has failed to renew the law.

What Duncan probably had in mind was the reaction from Kentucky: Rather than rebelling, state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is respectfully asking Duncan to cut him some slack. But he's proposing to give something in return.

In exchange for permission to break some of the law's requirements, Holliday says, he's ready to add some new elements to his state's plan for evaluating students. "We're adding two components: growth over time, down to the student level; and college and career readiness. Both of those were a focus of the president's and the secretary's blueprint," Holliday says. In other words, students will be judged by whether their test scores are steadily improving and whether they are ready for college or a job.

The outcome of the pushback in Idaho and Kentucky (and now developing: South Dakota) to improve the education system remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: It doesn’t look like Congress will be making big changes any time soon. U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth acknowledged this at the recent “Kentucky Leads the Nation” roundtable. As reported in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal, Yarmuth said Congress is too dysfunctional, too polarized and it’s too close to the presidential election for such bipartisan collaboration. “The vast majority of the new Republican members and our junior senator from Kentucky basically say, ‘We’d just as soon do away with the Department of Education,’ so in terms of a compromise … there’s not a whole lot of room.”

Do you think these states have the right ideas of taking the education system into their own hands? Let me know what you think in the comments.