Professional Learning

NCLB: Law and Evolution

Hate No Child Left Behind? It’s here to stay, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

September 1, 2007

PREDICTION: NCLB will be accepted, if grudgingly, as a fact of educational life, but will evolve by policy advocates and new congressional leadership.

Parent-involvement advocates such as the Public Education Network and the National PTA are pushing for increased funding to support such services as parent-resource centers, as well as an expansion of the parental-notification provisions (triggered by a school's failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals). Those concerned with the nation's high dropout rates are urging Congress to include provisions in the next iteration of NCLB that will both accurately report the number of students leaving schools before graduation and hold schools and districts accountable for the students they lose. But perhaps the most contentious issue of all involves the third key player in the education triumvirate: the teacher.

First on the teacher-provision punch list: How do we move from the current definition of "highly qualified teacher," which most people agree is limiting and limited, to one that more accurately reflects a teacher's experience, content knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, his or her ability to educate all students to high standards?

Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, advocates for a tiered approach to measuring teacher qualifications -- from minimally qualified (a newly credentialed teacher, for instance) to highly expert, which Berry describes as those "who improve student learning and spread their expertise to other teachers."

"We need to frame this in a way that is respectful of the complexities of teaching,"adds Berry, which, he contends, means using more than just test scores to gauge teacher effectiveness.

Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications for the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to improve education for all students, agrees with Berry that NCLB 2.0 should address the issue of teacher effectiveness versus bare-bones qualifications. Unlike Berry, though, Wilkins and her colleagues have advocated for a value-added approach that relies largely on multiyear test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

Pointing to the disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers in high-poverty schools, the Ed Trust is also calling for a more equitable distribution of effective and qualified teachers. Although provisions in the current law require states to develop equitable teacher-distribution plans, Wilkins says, they haven't been given high enough priority and there aren't sufficient penalties for school districts and states that don't take the requirements seriously.

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

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