- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

The top Democrat on the House education panel has condemned the continuing efforts of many of his fellow party members and the National Education Association to water down school reform provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In a letter to fellow House members last week, California Rep. George Miller said critics have spread “misleading or outright inaccurate information” about federal requirements to improve student achievement.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sets a five-year timeline for schools to improve student reading and mathematics achievement in grades three through eight, according to state-developed academic standards “that in most cases predate the 2002 enactment of this law,” said Mr. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee.

“Under the NCLB, schools must meet state-determined goals referred to as ‘adequate yearly progress’ [AYP], not simply for the overall school population, but for each group of disadvantaged children. It is critical that these groups — limited English proficient, disabled, and low-income children, for example — meet these state-determined AYP goals,” the congressman said.

Initial NEA-backed efforts to suspend the proposal’s accountability requirements until the law was “fully funded” were rejected by the House in July. The union and Democrats say funding has fallen $8 billion to $9 billion a year short.

Mr. Miller, without naming the NEA, said critics have deceived the public with untrue reports that schools would be punished for failing to achieve “adequate yearly progress.” He argued that lower funding was “the real outrage.”

Anjetta McQueen, an NEA spokeswoman, said the administration and Republicans in Congress have reneged on their promise “that money and reform would go hand in hand.”

She said 54,000 teachers will not get federally prescribed training this school year because the $3 billion appropriation was $244 million less than the original authorization.

Also, she said, “Education Department regulations allow schools to meet adequate yearly progress even if they had high numbers of dropouts among poor and minority students. These regulations released last fall directly contradict language in the original bill.”

She said the majority of drop-outs are “our most vulnerable students … minority groups and children with limited English skills.”

The centrist Democratic Leadership Council also recently condemned the NEA strategy, calling passage of the education bill President Bush’s “one genuine bipartisan domestic policy accomplishment.”

The DLC blamed the NEA for “much of the impetus for dismantling NCLB and promoting a funding-centric agenda.”

“Conversely, American Federation of Teachers’ President Sandra Feldman has struck a more reasonable tone” by praising the law’s intent and by telling teachers that focusing on its potential downsides does a “disservice to our students, our profession, our union and to each and every individual teacher,” a DLC memo said.

The AFT’s position has “no hint of either the NEA’s reflexive opposition to the law or of the insidious argument that some children need different (read lower) expectations because they’re poor,” the memo said.

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, agreed with Mr. Miller.

“Achievement gaps between disadvantaged children and their peers can no longer be masked or swept under the rug” as a result of the new education law, he said.

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