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The NEA cries wolf again

By Nancy Salvato
web posted April 25, 2005

Enacted in 2002, NCLB or No Child Left Behind is a law that forces the public schools to implement measures which are intended to eliminate "the bigotry of low expectations" for poor and minority children as a condition of receiving federal money. Although many of the laws' mandates were required in the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NCLB requires funding recipients to provide proof of accountability by demonstrating progress in eliminating the achievement gap.

Stipulations for receiving federal money are imposed on schools and are intended to minimize the achievement gap and ensure that all children be proficient in their grade level by 2014. Assessment results are deliberately broken into subgroups to reflect economic level, race, disability, and limited English proficiency to ensure that no group is left behind.

Over time, failure to make AYP, or adequate yearly progress will result in corrective action and restructuring measures designed to assist the school in meeting "state proficiency standards".

Last week the National Education Association filed a law suit against the federal government and is arguing that Section 9527 of the law says that the federal government cannot mandate a state or school district to incur costs not covered by federal funding. They claim NCLB is an unfunded mandate. The goal of the suit is to loosen federal requirements attached to the money or to raise the amount of funding to meet the alleged costs of making AYP.

Lawsuits with union backing and demanding more tax dollars to provide for an adequate public school education are becoming more common place. However, according to Doug French in his piece about Nevada's K-12 education, "High per-pupil spending in America often correlates with pathetic educational results -- witness New York City, Washington, D.C., and many other union-dominated jurisdictions. On the other hand, low per-pupil spending is often linked with relatively high educational success -- as with our neighbor Utah, and with private and parochial schools." He warns us that, "The best defense is often a good offense. And so, a constant drumbeat about supposedly inadequate per-pupil taxpayer subsidies has proven an effective way to shift the blame, maintain the political initiative and, perhaps most importantly, keep the money flowing."

People who are not educated on both sides of an issue and continually subjected to only one ideology or viewpoint make it easier for those with power and influence to have a greater effect on their opinion. For so many children an abridged education starts early in life because labels, like "politically incorrect" censor fairy tales like The Boy Who Cried Wolf; deemed no longer appropriate to teach morals such as to be wary of false accusations. Parents hand their children over to public education institutions earlier and earlier. The result, special interest groups like the NEA are able to maintain a lot of power and influence, even having long outlived their usefulness.

Going back to Doug French's piece, he writes, "The quality of the individual teacher is by far the most important factor in student success." He continues, "Vast millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year by school district administrators and union bosses through the [salary] grids. They could move to measuring teacher quality by tracking individual students' improvements year by year. But it's so much less threatening to the union to just look at longevity and trivial teacher college degrees -- neither of which, research has shown, significantly helps student achievement."

Doug French gives the very reason why NCLB is so important to reforming the public school system. The law requires districts to implement what does work. As French puts it, "It is this -- Nevada's chronic spending to purchase what is known to not work -- instead of what does work -- that is this state's fundamental education problem. And it has persisted for decades because it grows directly out of the debased role of the modern state as the servant of well-organized special interests."

State courts legislating from the bench order legislatures to provide, what the NEA considers "adequate funding" to the public schools. In New York, Robin Rapaport, the President of the NEA reminded the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees that, 'Our state's constitution mandates that "the Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated."'

She was critical that the Governor slashed funding for BOCES (vocational) funding cuts and for creating charter schools. She asked that education retirees continue to receive the same health insurance benefits as active educators and to re-enact the section of the law which would phase out with a sunset provision. She suggested state leaders find new revenue from the wealthiest private and corporate citizens.

In response, the legislature restored the Governor's cuts, and passed a budget, "that will provide over $848 million more in funding to public schools than last year – approximately $354 million more than the governor proposed." It is because of testimony such as Rapaport's that Kansas, Montana, and New York are, "currently under orders from their highest courts to fix their school finance systems." In New York, the state is planning to appeal the trial judge's order to provide $5.6 billion in operating increases over four years to fix the New York City schools.

The idea that the court can tell politicians to appropriate more taxes to assuage special interest groups is quite frankly, frightening. This is judicial activism at its worst. It has not been proven that greater funding will solve the problems inherent in the public schools. Certainly the court can determine the legality of an action but to determine how our tax dollars are spent seems out of its jurisdiction. "Whether the court has the authority to require us to appropriate money is a major constitutional question. The answer will be keenly anticipated by many. The prevailing view is that the court lacks the ability to do that."

Regarding the NEA lawsuit, MEA President Lu Battaglieri and Pontiac EA President Ana Sanchez spoke at a press conference in Pontiac "These massive shortfalls force states and school districts to divert money from educational priorities, such as reducing class size, retaining the best teachers or buying the most up-to-date classroom materials."

This type of rhetoric is to be expected. Even though class sizes have been progressively reduced since 1955 from an average of 27 students per teacher to 15 per teacher and spending per pupil is the highest in some of the worst performing districts, DC and NY leading the pack, NCLB should be seen as bad for requiring these states to reevaluate what isn't working and implement what is scientifically proven to work.

The NEA is crying wolf again. As long as we keep listening, they'll keep crying and getting all the attention even though there is nothing to cry about. We don't really need to give them the time of day. They are no longer necessary. As a matter of fact, the only purpose they serve is to prevent us from completing the work that needs to be done. Too bad there isn't a wolf large enough to swallow them whole and relieve us from their burden…

Nancy Salvato is the Director of Online Communications at Americans for Limited Government. She is an experienced educator and an independent contractor with Prism Educational Consulting. She serves as Educational Liaison for Illinois' 23rd Senatorial District. She works nationally and locally furthering the cause of Civic Education. Her writing is widely published on the internet and occasionally in print venues such as the Washington Times. Her opinions have been heard on select radio programs across the nation. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education. © 2005 Nancy Salvato. (Contributing to this piece was Shawnna Bolick)


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