Kickin’ It New School: U.S. Education Reform Is Causing Concern for Disadvantaged Students (Audio)

14 years ago, the United States Congress passed a measure that re-instituted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most extensive federal legislation involving education in the country’s history. Essentially, the Act covers the funding for primary (kindergarten through elementary) and secondary (middle and high school) education, and its original version was passed in 1965. In 2001, President George W. Bush began arguing for a revision of the Act, one that would “ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.” Signed into law in 2002, the re-booted version of the Act has become known as the No Child Left Behind Act, and as with most government acts, it has had its fair share of supporters and opponents. Touted as an initiative to help disadvantaged students receive high-quality education, it’s centered on the states’ abilities to create, execute, and track basic skills of its students, which makes them eligible for federal funding. As it stands now, about $14 billion goes to schools which serve mostly minority and low-income students, but reports that many members in Congress want to overhaul NCLB have many parents and others worried about the future of their children.


According to, the NCLB law “grew out of concern that the American education system was no longer internationally competitive,” and its most lasting effect is that it “significantly increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students” through the implementation and tracking of “annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, and teacher qualifications.” Earlier today, NPR’s “Morning Edition” aired a news package on the latest developments in NCLB’s trajectory, which explained the motives of those in support of revisiting the Act and the concerns of those who feel changing its constitution will only harm students of color and low-income families. According to the report, bipartisan support for a revamping is already there, and details about the agreement includes that “annual testing would remain for grades three through eight and at least once in high school. Schools would still have to test 95 percent of their students and report the results by race, income and special need.” However, it’s the sweeping changes proposed that have caused the most concern.

“The U.S. education secretary could no longer push for academic standards like the Common Core or mandate that teachers be evaluated based on things like student test scores,” writes Claudio Sanchez. But that isn’t even the biggest change in the proposal. Lawmaker want “the federal government out of the business of identifying failing schools, leaving that tough job to states. Each state would come up with its own plan to help schools improve, its own deadlines and its own metrics to measure that improvement. If schools don’t improve, states would have to figure out what to do.” Seemingly, what is transpiring is a classic battle between conservative and liberal ideologies: big government versus small government. NCLB effectively brought big government into the American educational system, and supporters of the NCLB overhaul are hoping to give small government a chance, to allow states to act independently of one another and the nation as a whole when it comes to the education of their student residents.

One vocal opponent of the proposed changes is Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who is quoted as saying “The idea that we would pass a major piece of legislation about education and, in effect, shovel money into states and say, ‘Do with it what you want’, and not have some accountability for how that money is spent, I think, is appalling.” Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP, has echoed those concerns, saying “concentrated poverty is deadly, and we’re not paying enough attention to it,” something that will only be exacerbated. Sanchez paraphrases Shaw’s continued statement by saying “without the federal government as a watchdog, it’ll be up to states to take the lead in tackling the biggest problem of all — the concentration of poor and minority children in failing schools.” And, while supporters of the measure including Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, declined to be interviewed for the story, the general consensus seems to be that Washington should not be the involved in how states opt to educate their youngest students, and that they are entirely capable of handling educational reform the way that they see fit. You can hear the entire story and the reactions from both sides below.

Are students in better hands with federal involvement, or should each state be responsible for themselves?

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