Education policy is typically a hot-button issue. Depending upon political affiliation or ideology, individuals will advocate for increased government management of the education system in America, or in some extreme cases, the disbanding of the federal Department of Education. Regardless of one's position, it is important that all stakeholders are represented in the dialogue regarding the future of education in America.
In 2002, a bi-paritsan Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, later signed by President George W. Bush. For what was perhaps the first and last time, President Bush stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the nation's most strident Democrats, like Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and pronounced that America would see a new education that would ensure that students would actually learn. Schoolchildren would take standardized tests to measure their growth, and schools would receive federal sanction over time if progress was not made.
Since the legislation was enacted, there has been a mix of criticism and praise from different groups. Educators suggest that No Child Left Behind forces them to "teach to the test," resulting in a limit on the creativity they can bring to the classroom. Lawmakers, in some cases from both sides of the aisle, refer to the legislation as an unfunded mandate in which the federal government is requring states to operate in a certain way while not providing the funds necessary to succeed. School administrators fear that their districts will be placed on so-called "watch lists," and that NCLB will restrict their funding. Students hear from their teachers that their photography club has been canceled, or that the school has to discontinue offering certain academic electives, "because of No Child Left Behind."
These arguments are not without merit, however, these sentiments do not accurately reflect all of the stakeholders in education in America. No one is asking, or even listening, to what students have to say about their own educations. They are the ones to sit in the classrooms every day, experiencing the impact of No Child Left Behind, but they have no outlet to offer their feelings, or even their recommendations.
STEP: Students Talking about Education Policy is a national initiative of the Institute for Domestic & International Affairs, that seeks to broaden the dialogue on No Child Left Behind as the legislation enters the reauthorization phase in 2007. As its name implies, STEP will amplify the voice of America's students to ensure that they are afforded an active role in the upcoming discussions. Additionally, and equally important, STEP will also seek to dispel some of the misconceptions about No Child Left Behind. By reviewing the actual NCLB legislation, it becomes clear that the legislation has become a scapegoat for virtually all funding concerns in schools.