One of California’s top education officials said the federal No Child Left Behind law is no longer credible or legitimate because too many states have been given a waiver.
“They have already disowned the program in terms of the U.S. Department of Education by the secretary already declaring it null and defunct in effect in 33 states," said Michael Kirst, President of California’s State Board of Education. "I don’t see that it has any credibility or legitimacy left.”
His board sets policy for the most public school chidren of any state in the nation.
President George W. Bush signed the law in 2001, setting 2014 as the year that every student, including those whose first language isn’t English, will be proficient in English and math.
“It’s turned out to be illusory and not attainable by any state,” Krist said.
The Obama administration has been exempting states from the 100 percent proficiency goal and other key provisions — but only if they meet a list of reforms.
Krist said Federal officials told him California's waiver application is about to be denied, likely because California has not agreed to use student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations.
California’s teachers union opposed doing that.
Former Long Beach Unified superintendent Carl Cohn doesn’t think it’s necessary, either. He says students were doing fine even before No Child Left Behind and don’t need more rules from the federal government.
“Some of us are saying, you know what, in the real world of urban school districts for ten years we actually made gains in student performance without beating up on teachers and without tying evaluations to student test scores,” Cohn said.
Joanne Fawley, president of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association, said No Child Left Behind has done more harm than good by focusing learning only on what’s going to be on the test.
“English teachers have been told in many schools not to teach novels or literature because they take too much time and are not tested,” she said.
Despite the waivers, it remains the law of the land, said USC education scholar Katharine Strunk. She credits the law with improving student achievement nationwide and slimming the achievement gap between students of different races.
“I don’t think it’s a failure of a policy, I think that there are parts of NCLB that no longer make sense or perhaps never made sense,” she said--specifically the 100 percent proficiency requirement.
By one estimate 80 percent of California schools will fail to meet that requirement in 2014. Observers say that may be the impetus for federal lawmakers to overhaul the education law.