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Leading the Way: NCLB, Take Two

NCLB, Take Two

The law expires next year. What will replace it?

Change is in the air for the so-called “No Child Left Behind” law (NCLB), the current incarnation of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

NCLB comes up for renewal or reform next fall. NEA has hammered out a list of essential reforms called NEA’s Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization and a plan to get these reforms into the law, which was approved at last summer’s Representative Assembly.

NEA Executive Committee member Becky Pringle, chair of NEA’s ESEA Advisory Committee, has been promoting that agenda at formal and informal meetings with movers and shakers around the country. Most recently, she testified at a meeting of an influential, non-partisan commission created by the Aspen Institute to consider changes to NCLB.

Pringle told the commission that NEA supports some elements of NCLB. One example, she said, is the requirement that student test scores be reported separately by race, ethnicity, income level, and other categories as a way to identify achievement gaps. But merely acknowledging the gaps without providing the resources and support to address them means kids and schools are unfairly labeled and the underlying problems are not being addressed.

NEA Executive Committee member Becky Pringle tells the Aspen Institute's NCLB commission how NCLB needs to be changed. Photo: Sandy Schaeffer

And, she said, the law’s extreme concentration on test scores as the sole measure of a school’s success is making things worse.

Business leaders and educators agree, she noted, that “teaching what is most easily tested may be convenient and cheaper in the short run, but in the long run, will threaten our ability to compete globally.”

Overreliance on high-stakes standardized tests dampens the enthusiasm for teaching and learning, Pringle said, and will not promote the 21st-century skills our students need.
Pringle says more education leaders and policymakers are paying attention to the problems with NCLB and to NEA’s proposals.

“They’re listening to us because our agenda makes sense and because the status quo is just not working,” Pringle says. “The one-size-fits-all, test-and-punish provisions of NCLB have not done the job. We now have solid data. Reading scores nationwide are essentially flat. Math scores are rising, which is good, but they’re rising more slowly than they were before NCLB.
“The bottom line: NCLB in its current form is not helping kids learn. The Administration likes to say that everything we do should be research-based. NCLB fails that test.”

The ESEA Advisory Committee, appointed by NEA President Reg Weaver, gathered input from educators around the country last spring and crafted NEA’s Positive Agenda.

That agenda includes some well-established building blocks for great public schools that can help close achievement gaps—building blocks like small classes and a rich, rigorous, and comprehensive curriculum that gives all students the knowledge and critical thinking skills they need to succeed in the modern job market.

The NEA agenda also calls for schools to be held accountable on the basis of multiple measures of success, not just one-size-fits-all test scores.

And it asks Congress and the President to provide the resources needed to ensure there are quality educators in each classroom, programs to engage parents in helping their children learn, and the money needed to make all that happen.

To get these changes incorporated into the next version of the federal law, NEA is building alliances with other pro-public education organizations—88 groups so far and still growing. NEA is also mobilizing educators on the front lines to tell their stories to the decision-makers in Congress.

Pringle says there’s urgent work to be done right now. Although the law doesn’t come up for renewal until next year, she says the success of the reform effort could be determined this fall at the ballot box, when one-third of the U.S. senators and all House of Representatives members will be elected.

“Many of them have tight races,” Pringle says. “In these races, educators’ votes could put a pro-public school candidate into office, ready to make common sense reforms when NCLB comes up next year.”

For information on the candidates in your state, go to your state Association Web site. You can contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to support NEA’s reform proposals at To tell your NCLB story, and to learn more about the law and the ESEA Committee report, visit                        


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