An analysis by the Associated Press says nearly 2 million students--mostly minorities--aren't being counted in test scores under No Child Left Behind, creating a false picture of academic progress.
The law requires that all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. It requires regular testing of more than 25 million students. Schools must report overall test scores but also break them down by categories such as race, poverty or migrant status. Failure in any category means the whole school fails.
But according to an AP analysis of enrollment figures in 2003-2004, about one in every 14 test scores aren't being counted under the racial categories. That's because states are using a loophole allowing them to ignore scores of racial groups that are too small to be "statistically significant."
Minorities, according to the analysis, which traditionally lag behind white students in math and reading scores, are seven times more likely than whites to have their scores excluded.
Four years after President Bush signed the law, which Congress is expected to renew in 2007, concerns about the affects of NCLB appear to be growing. Sanctions for failure to raise test scores are escalating year by year.
The National Council of Churches in November issued a statement of moral concerns about the law, saying it is "becoming clear that the law is leaving behind more children than it is saving."
The National Education Association says instead of guaranteeing every child an equal opportunity to succeed in education, NCLB has created a host of bureaucratic tangles that present obstacles to helping students.
The NEA supports reform of the law, which teachers say focuses on punishment instead of funding, unfunded mandates instead of support for proven practices and standardized testing rather than teacher-led and classroom-focused solutions.
Last fall the NCC committee on public education and literacy released a statement titled "Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act."
Excerpts of the statement were recently published online by the Public Education Network's "Weekly Newsblast" and picked up on the Daily Kos blog, eliciting praise.
"Christian faith speaks to public morality and the ways our nation should bring justice and compassion into its civic life," the statement begins. "This call to justice is central to needed reform in public education, America's largest civic institution, where enormous achievement gaps alert us that some children have access to excellent education while other children are left behind."
While the NCLB Act "purports to address educational inequity," the statement continues, several years into its implementation "it is becoming clear that the law is leaving behind more children than it is saving."
"The children being abandoned are our nation's most vulnerable children--children of color and poor children in America's big cities and remote rural areas--the very children the law claims it will rescue," it says.
Among the 10 concerns, the statement says: "While it is a civic responsibility to insist that schools do a better job of educating every child, we must also recognize that undermining support for public schooling threatens our democracy. The No Child Left Behind Act sets an impossibly high bar--that every single student will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. We fear that
this law will discredit public education when it becomes clear that schools cannot possibly realize such an ideal."
The law also fails to recognize that children learn in different ways and at different stages, embarrasses children who are labeled as "failing," requires students in special education to pas tests designed for children without disabilities and requires English-language learners to take tests in English before they learn the language.
Further, it says, NCLB blames schools and teachers for challenges that are beyond their control. The focus on testing of basic schools obscures the role of the humanities, arts and other subjects. Because it operates through sanctions, NCLB takes federal funding away from already stressed schools.
Finally, the statement says, the law "exacerbates racial and economic tension" by rating wealthier suburban schools as excellent and urban schools with more challenges as "in need of improvement, while making demands on states and school districts without fully funding reforms that would help close achievement gaps.
"Most tellingly, the schools that offer the least to their students are often schools serving poor
children, among whom children of color figure disproportionately, as they do in all the shortfalls
of our common life," the statement says. "Indeed, the coexistence of neglect of schools and neglect of other aspects of the life of people who are poor makes it clear that no effort to improve education in the United States can ignore the realities of racial and class discrimination in our society as a whole."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Click here for PDF file "Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act."