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Last modified: Monday, January 28, 2008

NEA lobbyist says 'No Child Left Behind' in peril

Speaking in CEEP policy chat on Wednesday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 28, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The top lobbyist for "No Child Left Behind" policy for the National Education Association does not see much possibility of the law being renewed by Congress this year.

"There are just significant differences between the president, the Democrats in Congress, the Democrats and the Republicans, among the Democrats, among the Republicans and it's just hard to see how that all gets worked out, particularly in a presidential election year," said Joel Packer, director of educational policy and practice for the NEA.

Joel Packer

Joel Packer

Packer speaks on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 3 p.m. in the Dogwood Room of the Indiana Memorial Union in Bloomington as part of the Education Policy Chat Series presented by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy in the Indiana University School of Education. The presentation is free and open to the public.

"No Child Left Behind," or NCLB, is the law signed in January 2002 that updates the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act first passed in 1965. The law put into place priorities for education policy promoted by the administration of President George W. Bush. The NEA, an organization that represents 3.2 million public school teachers, educational support professionals, and higher education faculty, has urged changes in the legislation since it became law.

Neither Congress nor the president is signaling willingness to compromise on the bill, Packer said. He added that a sticking point over accountability is likely to ensure the law will expire on Sept. 30. Packer said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and President Bush both oppose anything beyond using two statewide standardized tests to measure student progress. Some in Congress and the NEA are pushing for more options.

"It's almost certain that there'll be more flexibility so that in addition to the statewide test you can look at how are students achieving based on a mix of state tests, local tests, maybe classroom level assessments, using portfolios and other ways," Packer said.

In his current role, Packer oversees the NEA's primary policy center on elementary and secondary education issues. Since joining the organization in 1983, he has served as a manager for policy regarding the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and as a federal lobbyist on a variety of educational issues. He has more than 32 years experience in education policy.

Federal education law should reflect 21st century skills for students, Packer said. The next incarnation of the federal education bill should provide more flexibility to states, he said.

"We're opposed to an accountability system that is largely based on just labeling and punishing schools without providing them with appropriate interventions or tools and resources to put in place proven programs," Packer said.

He criticized the current law for not considering factors that affect student achievement, such as poverty. Packer also called the requirement of 100 percent proficiency for all U.S. students in reading and math by 2013 "not realistically attainable."

Packer said the NEA is pushing to make education a larger issue in the presidential race. While the Iraq war, terrorism, and the economy have dominated debates and campaign stops, he said the candidates are paying attention to NCLB. He noted that Republican candidates are mixed on their support of the measure, while the Democratic front-runners have largely been critical of it.

"I think if any of those folks becomes the next president, I imagine they'll be advocating for pretty significant changes," Packer said.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. More about CEEP is available on the CEEP website, http://ceep.indiana.edu/.

Media outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/news/tabid/5663/Default.aspx. Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Packer says renewal of No Child Left Behind before it expires at the end of September is unlikely:

"I think it's very unlikely that the law actually gets rewritten this year for both substantive and political reasons. There are just significant differences between the president, the Democrats in Congress, the Democrats and the Republicans, among the Democrats, among the Republicans and it's just hard to see how that all gets worked out and particularly in a presidential election year."

Packer says the NEA wants federal accountability measures to adjust to more than just scores of two standardized state tests:

"So what we have said is that there should be accountability, but it should be first of all a more comprehensive accountability, that we should be looking at both multiple measures of student learning and multiple indicators of school quality. We also need a set of outcomes that are not punitive, but provide the kind of interventions that struggling schools need to improve. We also think accountability needs to be a shared accountability so that federal government, as it imposes these requirements on states and schools, provides them the resources they need to carry them out."

If there is a rewrite of NCLB, Packer says the new law will provide more options for schools and states:

"I think it's just, again to me almost certain that there'll be more flexibility so that in addition to the statewide test you can look at how are students achieving, based on a mix of state tests, local tests, hopefully maybe classroom level assessments, using portfolios and other ways of looking at how are students learning. I also think there'll be other factors in looking at the overall school quality, graduation rates, attendance rates and other factors. I think that there'll be less prescriptiveness and less negative consequences imposed on schools that don't meet the federal standards. I think there'll be more flexibility for states and school districts to figure at 'well, what are the specific problems?' and put in place plans that relate to those specific problems. I think there will almost certainly be support for things like helping states reduce class size, put in place high quality pre-K programs, put in place extended learning time, extended school days, school year programs. I think it'll be really less label and punishment, more recognizing that we need to mature."