Editorial: Obama, Romney try solutions for No Child Left Behind


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A report issued by the Department of Education found that 800 Iowa schools and 61 school districts failed to meet standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act, but the flaws in the system are readily apparent.

Pam Ehly, the director of instruction for the Iowa City School District, said that the Annual Yearly Progress standards under the No Child Left Behind Act “does not track the same students year-to-year, and that’s a limitation when a majority of students are making improvements, and to say a school is not doing well does not help the child.” Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said he believes the No Child Left Behind Act overestimates the number of failing schools in Iowa.

“We do not have 800 failing schools,” he said. “We do have some that need help, and we need to better identify them.”

The law’s inability to adequately identify underperforming schools is problematic. Under the current standards, schools and school districts that routinely underperform can be subject to sanctions as serious as outside curriculum reform and even closure.

On the national scene, modifications to the law originally seen as a step in the right direction for American education have become key components of the education policies offered by President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Obama’s plan, which is in place, has already lifted No Child Left Behind requirements in more than half the country. It is unclear whether Romney’s proposed reforms would have a similarly positive effect.

Since 2010, the Obama administration has granted waivers to 33 states that have chosen to opt out of the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, these states have opted to develop their own plans that will follow education standards set by the Obama administration. Among other things, these standards will link teacher performance to pay and allow poorly performing teachers to be fired; public-school curriculum will also be standardized in states conforming to the Obama plan.

As it stands, rules passed by the Iowa Legislature prevent the state from receiving a full waiver, meaning that Iowa’s schools will be subject to the achievement goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act going forward, barring legislative action on a state level.

Romney’s education policy, as outlined in full in a May policy brief titled, “A Chance for Every Child” calls for federal funds allocated to educate low-income and special-needs students according to Title 1 of the No Child Left Behind Act to be given directly to these students, who would then be allowed to “buy in” to any local school. This program seeks to inject market forces into the education system by giving students what amounts to an education voucher and allowing them to shop for schools.

Romney’s plan relies on market principles to improve school performance, and it would also seek to improve access to information about schools but would not replace the No Child Left Behind requirements currently in place in Iowa.

Iowa’s current No Child Left Behind conundrum may not be solved by the policies of either candidate, but Obama is the candidate who is clearly leading the nation away from the intrusive law. Romney’s education plan would simply leave the current standards in place, leaving Iowa without much hope of breaking free from No Child Left Behind.

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