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Education Reporter

Will New Education Law Leave Every Child Behind?
H.R. 1 increases federal spending, control
WASHINGTON, DC - Shortly before Christmas, U.S. House and Senate conferees working on the 1000-plus page education bill resolved their differences and brought the federal leviathan to a vote. H.R. 1 passed the House by 381 to 41 and the Senate by 87 to 10. Its price tag of $26.5 billion is $8 billion more than President Clinton's last education bill and $4 billion more than President Bush requested. The Bush White House pushed hard for the bill, and the president signed it on January 8.

Titled "Leave No Child Behind," H.R. 1 proposes to achieve this lofty goal by making schools accountable to the federal government. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) called the bill "a stunning federal mandate" that strikes at "the essence of local control."

Education analysts note that H.R. 1 continues a failed strategy that began with President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" in 1965, which promised to "close the gap" between achieving and non-achieving students. Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, wrote: "Even though the government's own evaluations prove that billions of dollars have produced no measurable results, this law's only approach is still more federal spending and control."

H.R. 1 requires every state to implement its own standards and tests. The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) will be used as a check to ensure that states are not dumbing-down their standards and tests in math and English. The NAEP is mandated at least biannually, and states are responsible for getting schools to participate, although the law does not require schools to participate.

When President Bush proposed testing as the way to hold schools accountable, he selected NAEP as the only acceptable measure. "The problem remains," writes Eagle Forum Legislative Director Lori Waters, "that whoever controls the test controls the curriculum, and schools will be held accountable to the federal government, not parents."

The federal government will pay for the development and administration of both state assessment tests and the NAEP, to the tune of $490 million for FY 2002, according to the Republican Study Committee.

Science standards and testing are required by H.R. 1, but there is no NAEP check-up required until 2007. Regarding controversial subjects, such as biological evolution, the bill states that "the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

H.R. 1 includes language prohibiting the development and implementation of a national test as well as clarifying that NAEP should not exert undue influence on states to align their state assessments with NAEP.

Graham-Tiahrt Diluted  
Parents have for years expressed concern that many tests, including NAEP, are designed to measure and shape attitudes and behavior rather than to test academic knowledge. In an attempt to address parental objections to intrusive surveys covering such topics as sexual behavior, political and religious beliefs, illegal behavior, as well as the issue of medical exams in schools, Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) offered an amendment to H.R. 1 requiring parental consent for student participation in these activities.

Although Graham-Tiarht is included in the final bill, the amendment was watered down to require a one-time notice to parents at the beginning of each school year to list the surveys and medical exams that might be given, thus putting the burden on parents to discover them and opt out their children.

Akin Amendment Adopted 
The Akin Objectivity Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), was more successful. This amendment states that tests should "be consistent with widely accepted professional testing standards, objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills, and be tests that do not evaluate or assess personal or family beliefs and attitudes, or publicly disclose personally identifiable information. . . ."

According to Eagle Forum education policy analyst Kristina Twitty, "This language was also made applicable to the NAEP, effectively ridding NAEP of the nosy questionnaires found at the beginning of each test."

The final bill was amended to allow test essay questions asking for students' opinions and interpretations, providing what some obervers view as a possible loophole.

Bilingual Education 
Despite the fact that bilingual education has failed to teach immigrant children English and that California and Arizona have passed referenda against it (see Education Reporter, December 2000), H.R. 1 appropriates $750 million for bilingual ed in FY 2002 and "such sums as may be necessary for each of the five succeeding fiscal years." By comparison, Congress spent $284 million on bilingual education in FY 1999 and $319 million in FY 2000.

Kristina Twitty reports that Part A of Title III of H.R. 1 (page 465) requires recipients of federal bilingual education grants to certify that "all teachers in any language instruction education program for limited English proficient children . . . . are fluent in English." But this requirement is contingent upon Congress spending at least $650 million on bilingual education. If a lesser amount is spent, schools are not held accountable for enacting this reform. "So we have in the new bill a condition that the stronger English requirement be contingent on Congress doubling the amount it spends on bilingual programs," Twitty points out.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) proposed an amendment to require parental consent before a child can be placed in a bilingual education program, but this was watered down to a simple parental notification requirement.

Other Provisions in H.R. 1:
Boy Scouts Prevail 
An amendment to prohibit schools from barring access to the Boy Scouts remains in the law despite the opposition of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Introduced in the House by Rep. Van Hilleary (R-TN) and the Senate by Jesse Helms (R-NC), this amendment will cut off funds to any state, district or school that discriminates against the Boy Scouts.

Hate Crimes 
H.R. 1 makes funds available for programs to prevent "violence associated with prejudice and intolerance." This provision allows hate crimes initiatives to be combined with existing programs, such as the Safe and Drug Free Schools program, as well as for the development of new curricula.

House Republicans offered an amendment in conference to protect students from activities that would undermine their religious beliefs, but this amendment was defeated.

Homeschooled students are exempt from the entire education bill.

School Choice 
Parents' hopes for meaningful school choice faded during the months of debate over H.R. 1. The final bill contains a provision allowing only students at schools that have been identified as failing for two years in a row to attend another public or charter (but not private) school within their districts. After five years, the state will take over failing schools.

School Prayer 
H.R. 1 upholds constitutionally-protected school prayer.

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