An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
February 24, 2005
In a harshly critical report, the National Conference of State Legislatures called the four-year-old law overly restrictive, unworkable, impractical, inflexible, its goals unattainable and, oh yes, unconstitutional. The conference said the law, which requires students in the third through the eighth grades be tested annually for proficiency in reading and math, stifled innovation, drove away good teachers and was in conflict with existing federal law on students with disabilities.
President Bush was in Europe when the report was issued but is unlikely to take kindly to criticism of what he considers one of his signature pieces of legislation. His reaction is likely to be much like that of House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner: "They want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it."
But this report is too unanimous and too bipartisan to be so quickly dismissed. At least a dozen states have passed resolutions critical of No Child Left Behind; nine states are contemplating challenges to the law; and Utah, a red state if there ever was one, is about to pass a law that says where Utah's education laws conflict with NCLB, the state laws take precedence.
The states are likely to really dig in their heels against Bush's plan to extend the law to the nation's high schools.
The critics take Boehner's point about the money but they say the federal government is demanding too much control for the 8 percent of the funding of public education it provides. Many believe the law is an unconstitutional intrusion into states' rights. The conference believes the law is unconstitutional but officials say the organization won't challenge it. That doesn't mean someone else won't.
Public school systems, no less than other organizations, resist being rated, ranked and criticized. But if the Bush administration and Congress find the state legislatures have a point, their objections should be remedied at least by the time No Child Left Behind comes up for renewal in 2007.
Standards, testing and accountability are not incompatible with flexibility and local control.
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