- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As Congress hammers out legislation reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, we are hopeful that its authors will be mindful of expanding local control and flexibility, improving the sophistication of student testing methods and increasing merit-based pay for teachers.

Leaders of both parties say they are committed to reauthorizing the program, signed into law in 2002, and on Thursday a Republican staff member from the House Education and Labor Committee told attendees at a conference of the Commission on No Child Left Behind that a current draft version of the bill is 1,036 pages long but contains just 100 pages of disagreement between the parties. We hope these seemingly small differences can be ironed out in a timely way, contrary to the prophesies of the National Education Association, whose chief lobbyist has proclaimed the bill dead. While the program is an expansion of federal control, its net positive results on student achievement give us reason to support its renewal, albeit with some modifications.

Members of Congress must give state and local officials increased flexibility to help them create personalized student learning programs. Republicans have offered a reasonable proposal that would give states and school districts authority to transfer 100 percent (an increase from the 50 percent currently allowed) of its federal funds between various programs. As part of the NCLB renewal, parents should also be allowed greater control over where their child attends school. One worthy proposal now circulating on Capitol Hill would give scholarships worth $4,000 to students stuck in failing schools. The money would allow parents to place their child in a public or private school of their choice.

Regarding testing methods, this page has advocated allowing states to fully implement computer-adaptive testing (CAT) into their methods for meeting the NCLB standards of adequate yearly progress. CAT is a relatively new method; however, studies confirm it is more accurate than non-adaptive tests in determining student aptitude. Unfortunately, the Department of Education (DOE) refuses to allow states to use full-fledged CAT above or below grade level to fulfill NCLB requirements, even though this sophisticated technology helps give students a competitive edge. While a legislative allowance for this technology is unnecessary, it may be needed to force a stubborn DOE to act. A Democratic aide from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told The Washington Times that Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would be willing to consider inserting this into the bill. We hope that he does.

Also, the important provision of merit-based pay for teachers must be increased in the revised NCLB. This will help motivate educators who significantly improve their students’ achievement and close the gaps between low-income and upper-income students. However, states and local school districts should be the ones to design and implement these pay-for-performance systems, and principals should be allowed to transfer their lowest-performing teachers or refuse to accept teachers who don’t meet their expectations. Holding our teachers accountable for both helps ensure that standards are met.

Our nation’s educational system needs an overhaul to ensure our students’ competitiveness globally. The lessons learned over the last six years NCLB has been in place should provide lawmakers the insight necessary to make modifications that will ensure the continued success of the program.

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