Education Equity Campaign Seeks Major Changes in NCLB

K-12 Testing
The Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE) has joined the growing list of groups calling for fundamental change to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law when it comes up for reauthorization. A new CEE report, Opportunity Knocks, looks at NCLB's shortcomings and how to fix them through the lens of the education funding adequacy movement. While the authors view NCLB as a "significant step toward equal education opportunity for all American students," they suggest three main areas where it needs fundamental transformation: funding, standards and capacity for school improvement.

Many in the funding adequacy movement have embraced testing as a critical tool in their lawsuits. Unfortunately, this has led some to support the use of testing to control curriculum and instruction as a vehicle for school improvement. This report, coauthored by Michael A. Rebell, a leading figure in the funding adequacy movement, and Jessica R. Wolff, takes important steps toward recognizing the limits of testing and the need for significant changes in NCLB.

The CEE report echoed a major thrust of the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind in arguing that NCLB should be revised to focus more on capacity building than on merely punishing struggling schools. The authors note that while NCLB calls for actions to turn around "failing schools," the transfer and tutoring provisions "divert energy and resources from schools' efforts" to improve. They recommend NCLB be changed to adopt what they called a "next-generation" accountability system that would use assessments and targets to "identify shortcomings and then focus resources on areas of need to build capacity."

CEE is one among many groups pointing out NCLB's failure to address the inadequate funding that is at the root of many schools' struggles to serve students well. The report says the education adequacy movement can offer a template, based on examples of state studies, for a national study of what it will take to provide a quality education. The school funding equity movement's consensus definition of good education goes beyond reading, math and science to include such things as "sufficient knowledge of social studies… to make informed choices about issues that affect them" and skills to "function productively as capable voters, jurors, and civic participants in a democratic society."

"Opportunity Knocks" notes there is a perverse incentive for states to lower proficiency standards to avoid sanctions. The focus on math, English and science has led many schools to deemphasize a range of other important subjects.

Rebell and Wolfe also argue that NCLB's ultimate goal is unrealistic and that there needs to be a "high but credible standard" for states to strive to reach by 2014. Rather than 100 percent proficiency, they believe the "immediate critical need is to ensure 100 percent opportunity."

Opportunity Knocks: Applying Lessons from the Education Adequacy Movement to Reform the No Child Left Behind Act is available at