Panel Unveils Extensive NCLB Reform Plan
> 2/15/2007 11:13:35 AM

In what would appear to be a very rare case of tentative cooperation, members of America's two major political parties have emerged from an intensive commission study in Aspen with a lengthy list of recommended amendments to the still-controversial No Child Left Behind Act, a far-reaching legislation whose critics and proponents have been embroiled in an epic squabbling match for more than three years. 

Among its primary bullet point proposals:

-Requiring teachers to win approval as HQETs (Highly Qualified Teachers) before transferring them into schools, giving principals the right to reject unqualified applicants and exercise greater control over who teaches in their programs. Members also propose an official, vaguely outlined measure of cooperation between college teaching programs and the real-life situations into which their graduates will soon move.

-Increasing nationwide emphasis on science in addition to the current focus on math. Using more distinctively separate standards to measure the relative performance of kids with cognitive impairments.

-Extending the time period in which ESL students must develop a fundamental control of English and requiring a universal nationwide measurement of English efficiency.

-Setting the cutoff date for graduation rate improvements to 2014 rather than the government's currently proposed date of 2020.

-Requiring successful schools to set aside 10 percent of their rosters to allow room for students transferring from other, poorly performing schools.

-Making it easier for failing schools to enact needed reforms by increasing the amount of federal funding set aside for school improvement intervention measures and doubling the money used to research school improvement techniques.

-Reducing the influence of the U.S. Department of Education by ensuring that they cannot usurp the authority of a state or district in choosing an appropriate, specific plan.

-Expanding the scope and technological capacity of the testing process to allow for quicker, deeper and more accurate measurements of competency and achievement while requiring yearly tests that would be individually shaped to fit each grade.

-Developing screening assessments (another term for testing) in preschool and kindergarten.

-Furthering the idea of institutional accountability by allowing parents and other concerned parties to pursue legal recourse from states, districts, or the federal government.

-Hiring experts in professional assistance/development for teachers and principles whose schools are on the road to failure while also re-emphasizing the need for the government to censure and slash the benefits of underperforming teachers whose students' test scores do not improve significantly over a given period (up to three years).

Some individual teachers and union members quickly responded to this proposal by restating their belief that the practice of sanctioning teachers for static test scores oversimplifies a complex problem. They are quick to condemn a perceived push to "teach the test" that undermines the entire learning process, focusing on rote memorization of irrelevant facts and numbers that will quickly recede from the minds of the children involved after the yearly testing battery's conclusion. The most consistent sore point raised by the plan's critics stems from the issue of underfunding, characterizing NCLB as an attempt to undermine public education in favor of privatization and to divert tax funds for specialty and religious schools.The federal government, some say, requests the impossible in emphasizing test numbers without providing additional funding or oversight. Others say extensive steps must be taken to open new public schools in underserved areas.

There's no question that the bi-partisan group must be commended for the expansive scope of the project as well as its meticulous attention to detail in most cases. No one can complain about a dearth of ideas on the subject of reform. And over the next decade or more we will probably continue debating the same key points without reaching definitive consensus. But all the ideas in the world do nothing without some form of real-world application, and speculation should be only one part of the all-encompassing process. In the meantime, we should at least be thankful that our government displays enough concern about the plan to organize such a significant commission.

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