President Bush said last week that it would be a priority of his administration to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act next year, and that he was prepared to take on the law’s critics.
“Instead of softening No Child Left Behind, we need to strengthen it. The law is working,” Mr. Bush said to more than 100 students, teachers, and community leaders at Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle School here.
The president reiterated his calls for Congress to expand the accountability law at the high school level, to give parents more educational options for their children, and to reward teachers for performance.
Mr. Bush has proposed those ideas before, but his renewed attention to No Child Left Behind comes as Congress gets closer to formally taking up the reauthorization of the law next year. Many observers believe final action could take longer, however.
Signed into law in January 2002, the measure overhauled the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to beef up its accountability provisions. Its centerpiece is a requirement that schools test students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school. Schools that fail to meet performance benchmarks face a series of consequences, including the loss of federal aid.
Shortly before visiting the school on Oct. 5, President Bush met with Department of Education officials at the department’s headquarters to discuss the law.
“No Child Left Behind is working, and we’ve been strategizing here as to how to make sure we not only defend it during the reauthorization process, but how we strengthen the law,” Mr. Bush told reporters after the closed-door session.
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, had told reporters the day before that the president’s stop at the Education Department would be similar to other recent forays he has made to the Pentagon and the Department of State.
“It’s a chance for him to go to the departments, hear from the Cabinet official and their supporting casts,” Ms. Perino said.
General criticisms of the No Child Left Behind law include that it promotes too much testing in schools and sets unrealistic expectations about the ability of all students to achieve at high levels.
At Woodridge Elementary and Middle School, which serves 334 Washington students in prekindergarten through 8th grade, Mr. Bush said members of Congress “feel the pressure because people say, ‘Look, we’re tired of measuring.’ They feel the pressure because, ‘you know, we’re just teaching to the test.’ I mean, there’s every excuse in the book.”
While a majority of the District of Columbia’s traditional and charter public schools haven’t made adequate yearly progress as required under the law, Woodridge has met that benchmark for the past three years and was one of only four charter schools, out of 62, in the city to do so this year.
During Mr. Bush’s speech, more than 50 Woodridge students sat in the crowd, dressed in white polo shirts and khaki or navy pants, and nearly all raised their hands when the president asked if they planned to go to college.
The president was scant on the details behind the changes he mentioned he’d like to see in the reauthorization of the law.
He wants Congress to devote more money to a teacher-incentive program that will award bonuses to high-performing teachers and to those who choose to work in inner-city or rural districts. He also wants the No Child Left Behind law to include a provision to encourage math and science professionals to teach in public schools. And, he wants to expand the law’s accountability standards to high schools, which are struggling to rein in dropout rates.
“One out of every four 9th graders in America does not graduate from high school on time,” Mr. Bush said. “That’s unacceptable.”
To that end, he promoted his proposal, unveiled in his State of the Union Address in January, to train 70,000 teachers over five years to teach Advanced Placement classes.
The Front Line
Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, criticized Mr. Bush for what the lawmaker says is the failure to provide enough funding to schools to meet the law’s requirements.
“Over the last five years, the Bush administration has severely undermined the law’s success by failing to give schools the resources and guidance they need to meet its demanding standards,” Rep. Miller said in a statement after the president’s school visit.
For teachers who work under the No Child Left Behind law every day, such as Woodridge’s Andrew Lakis, Mr. Bush’s calls for improving the teaching profession struck a chord. But Mr. Lakis, whose 5th grade students took a break from reading and subtraction to attend the speech, isn’t sure programs such as cash bonuses will do that.
“I don’t think we’ll see significant changes until we start treating educators as professionals,” Mr. Lakis said, “and expecting them to do a good job from the beginning, and not rewarding them after they do a good job.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2006 edition of Education Week as Bush Says He’s Ready to Fight for Renewal of NCLB