Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The George W. Bush Years: NCLB - Controversies
One challenge to NCLB involves alternatives for measuring AYP. Some states require equal annual incremental increases; others allow for smaller or no increases in the early years of their programs, with much larger increases expected in later years. Some states measure progress by assessing the "value added" from the beginning to the end of the school year with each group of students; others measure it by comparing one grade level score with the same grade level score (and therefore different students) the following year. These varying methods of establishing AYP-together with the different standards for proficiency among states-mean that the proportion of schools identified for improvement varies considerably from state to state.
Another challenge is the inclusion of English language learners in the accountability system. An effort to require all students to take classes in English, begun during the first Bush administration, gained momentum under George W. Bush. In 1998, voters in California approved Proposition 227, which dismantled the state's bilingual program and replaced it with a strict English-Only program. Two years later, California entrepreneur Ronald Unz sponsored a similar ballot initiative in Massachusetts (which in 1971 had been the first state in America to mandate bilingual education for non-English-speakers). Voters in Massachusetts replaced the three-year "bilingual-transitional" programs with one-year English-immersion programs, and Unz's initiative passed with 70 percent of the vote (including large majorities in Boston's immigrant neighborhoods).
In 2001, Congress replaced the federal Bilingual Education Act with a new English Language Acquisition Act, which required limited-English-proficient students to take tests in English after they had been in the United States for three years. (Under NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education permitted schools to exempt immigrants from standardized testing until they have been in the country for one year.) The perception that English-immersion programs would be more efficacious in achieving this goal spurred their adoption in many local districts. It remains to be seen, however, whether the federal courts will accept English immersion as a way to meet the legal standard of meaningful, appropriate, or "adequate" education for limited-English-proficient students. When considering this issue, courts will have to deal with what level of academic achievement demonstrated educational adequacy in the public schools.
The implementation of NCLB generates similar problems for students with disabilities-who may not be able to perform at the same level, or achieve at the same rate, as the state systems require of their peers. Though the administration accepted few early accommodations on this issue, it has agreed to more compromise in President Bush's second term.