The Birmingham American Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers have long been a leaders in the movement for higher academic standards, greater accountability, and enhanced professional development. When the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted in 2002, the BFT/AFT hoped that the law would advance these goals. Unfortunately, it has become apparent since enactment that serious flaws in the law – as well as chronic underfunding – are undercutting its original promise.
NCLB on the Hill
Although several bills to amend No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have been introduced in Congress-many of which the AFT is on record as supporting-it seems unlikely that any Congressional action will take place this year. We share your frustration that the necessary changes will not be made sooner, but let me try to explain the current legislative climate:
First, it is an election year-in November people will be voting for Governors in 36 states and Senators in 33 states, all of which means a shortened Congressional session. The election year schedule leaves less time to take on a law that needs so many changes, like NCLB.
Second, Congress has a tremendous amount of unfinished work from last year, including budget reconciliation, and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Head Start, and vocational education, all of which they hope to complete this year.
Finally, Rep. Boehner (R-Oh.), Chair of the House education committee, is running for Majority Leader in the House to fill the vacancy created by Rep. Tom DeLay’s resignation. Should he win, the Committee will have a new Chairman, most likely Rep. McKeon (R-Ca), and it is improbable that a new chairman would be prepared to move quickly on major legislation like NCLB.
“Let’s Get It Right” NCLB Campaign
Even though Congress may not be prepared to act on NCLB, the AFT is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are ready for the next reauthorization. The NCLB Task Force met on January 11th to review and refine its NCLB recommendations. These recommendations are being discussed at the AFT’s Executive Council Meeting, which begins on January 29th. We look forward to a rich discussion with Executive Council members. The NCLB Task Force will meet again before the Teacher PPC meeting in May, where the recommendations will again be reviewed.
The Activists for Congressional Education (ACE) program, another key element of the NCLB campaign, is closely coordinated with the grassroots efforts of AFT’s E-Activists who contact Congress on issues of critical importance to the AFT and its members. Since ACE was launched, almost 2,000 AFT members have contacted more than 70 Senators and over 200 House members in approximately 35 states support of the union's ongoing efforts to improve the implementation of NCLB and fully fund the law.
In addition to our legislative efforts, the AFT launched a new site on January 14th that features information and discussion on NCLB. The centerpiece of the new Web site, www.LetsGetItRight.org, is an online journal called a "blog." We hope the NCLBlog will be the forum for candid dialogue about the law. I am pleased to see that many state affiliates have included information about the new Web site and blog on their own Web sites. We really would like to hear from our leaders and members, and we hope that you will submit comments, particularly on the NCLBlog.
And, in an effort to hear more from you, I also participated in an NCLB Webchat through the AFT LeaderNet. More than 100 AFT leaders participated in the Webchat, and we were able to answer about 15 questions in the allotted time. If you missed it but are interested in what was discussed, the transcript is available on the LeaderNet.