NCLB -- Act II

By Del Stover

When George W. Bush paid a visit to Waldo C. Falkener Elementary School last fall, Principal Amy Holcombe was there as the president spoke about the upcoming debate in Congress over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. She listened as Bush defended his landmark education law. She heard him cite Falkener as evidence of NCLB’s success -- of how, four years ago, only 46 percent of the Greensboro, N.C., school’s third-graders read at grade level, and how today, that figure is 76 percent.

For the most part, Holcombe agreed with the president’s remarks. The underlying principles of NCLB, the demand for high standards, greater accountability, and the focus on long-overlooked student populations, are good, she says. NCLB has done well for public education, and for her school.

Still, despite her support, Holcombe joins tens of thousands of educators nationwide in hoping that this year’s reauthorization debate will lead to changes in the law. “I’d like to see more local control over sanctions,” she says. “Why are we offering tutoring after we offer choice? I think we ought to offer tutoring before we get to the point where students have the choice to leave a school.”

There’s never been a shortage of opinions about NCLB. And now that the law is up for reauthorization this year, both critics and supporters are laying the groundwork for one of the most important congressional debates about public education in years. Bush and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings have toured the country to argue for the law’s renewal, while some members of Congress are talking about the need for serious revisions. Each week, it seems, a new policy paper makes the rounds of Washington, D.C., and every major education association, civil rights group, state education department, and policy think tank has its lobbying machinery in motion.

“People are gearing up,” agrees David Griffith, director of governmental and public affairs for the National Association of State Boards of Education. “We’re gearing up. There is a general, emerging consensus among policymakers, lawmakers, and state and local educators about some specific fixes that need to be made in the law.”

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