NH vs. NCLB: Right goal, wrong method
The question for House members hoping to withdraw New Hampshire from the federal No Child Left Behind law is this: Then what?
Representatives debate today two bills - House Bill 1413 and House Bill 1517 - that would prohibit the state and local governments from participating in any part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Though declaring New Hampshire's independence from federal educational dictates is a goal we share, this approach has flaws.
Both bills treat NCLB as if it were something the Bush administration created out of thin air. In fact, it is a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. NCLB was intended to improve student achievement by holding school districts accountable for the education funding they took. It did not work as intended, and it needs to go. Washington should not be involved in local education matters, but it is and will be for a long time. That being the case, New Hampshire should press Congress to block-grant education funding so states can use some of the money they send to Washington to experiment and find what works best for their own people.
In the past five months, New Hampshire has had the opportunity to pursue something short of that, but better than the current arrangement. In August, the Obama administration announced that all states could pursue NCLB waivers that would allow them to come up with their own plans for meeting student achievement goals. Gov. John Lynch's administration did nothing. We confirmed with the state commissioner of education this week that New Hampshire has not sought and will not seek a waiver by the Feb. 21 deadline.
Exploiting the Obama administration's admission that one-size-fits-all education dictates from Washington do not work would have put New Hampshire in a good position from which to advocate for a total overhaul of federal education policy. Instead, HB 1413 and HB 1517 do something very different. They abandon NCLB's effort to bring poor-performing students up to speed and replace that effort with ... nothing. They make two big assumptions: 1. That New Hampshire's existing state education policy is good enough; and 2. That the $66.5 million in federal money these bills would cost us is easily done without.
Those are assumptions worth questioning. But these bills don't allow much time for a careful review. NCLB and all federal money associated with it (including federal programs that were targeting aid to poor-performing students well before NCLB was created) would be gone in a little less than five months. And rather than focusing the attention on the Lynch administration's failure (again) to stand up for New Hampshire, legislators will have created an election-year talking point for Democrats: that Republicans said no to $66.5 million in education money.