Thursday, September 13, 2007

As Congress debates the complexities of reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, a proposal from Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, runs the risk of watering down the intent and spirit of the program, which both Republicans and Democrats agree should be renewed before its expiration Sept. 30.

While certainly not without serious shortcomings, NCLB maintains an admirable goal of bringing all K-12 students to proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Unfortunately, a proposal from Mr. Miller and his fellow Democrats would muddy the waters of these standardized measures of student progress by throwing non-academic factors into the mix.

Including such non-academic factors as graduation rates and the availability of Advanced Placement courses, while undoubtedly important elements of a child’s education, convolutes the program’s premise: ensuring our children are literate and can perform basic math computations.

The proposal from Mr. Miller, chairman of the House education panel, would also result in many failing schools escaping needed overhaul and monitoring. Instead of forcing them to address academic failings, it gives them the option of garnishing their lack of substance with extracurricular window dressings to eke past federal standards.

Press reports indicate Rep. Carol McCarthy, New York Democrat, hopes to insert into NCLB a laughable proposal — though a somber waste of taxpayer money if enacted — that would divert taxpayer dollars for state grants to schools that try to stop bullying on their campuses. Not only is this idea an absurd expansion of the nanny state that Democrats love to peddle, it also takes responsibility away from parents, not government bureaucrats, who should be the ones instilling the values of cooperation and civility in their children.

Members on both sides of the aisle considering the revamping of NCLB would do well to look at the success of D.C., where a voucher program has allowed thousands of students to escape failing public schools for private or charter schools under grants and laws authorized by Congress. Studies have indicated parents are happy with the program, their children are performing better and student bodies are more diverse and integrated because of it.

A bill introduced by Rep. Buck McKeon of California, the ranking Republican on the House education panel, would give children in low-performing schools up to $4,000 to leave a failing school and enroll in a private school of their choice. The measure rightfully has been endorsed by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Amid all the din surrounding NCLB, we urge lawmakers to select the best of the proposals and shun the frivolous and superfluous. Our children deserve it.

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