Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Opting Out of No Child Left Behind

Now Arizona must get its own house in order

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D

It looks like Arizona is set to opt out of No Child Left Behind. Arizonans need transparency and accountability in public schooling, but they do not need NCLB.

The Goldwater Institute has written extensively about the flaws of NCLB. Chief among them is the fact that NCLB creates an entirely perverse incentive for states to lower their academic standards in order to meet a federal goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

A recent University of California Berkley study that found 10 of 12 states studied had dummied down their state accountability tests. States have engaged in a "race to the bottom," and sadly, Arizona is one of the leaders. Arizona parents and taxpayers need reliable testing data, and currently, NCLB hinders that vital goal.

If Arizona withdraws from NCLB, it must get its own house in order on testing and accountability. The state lowered the passing threshold on AIMS, and its version of the TerraNova exam is completely unreliable. This is Arizona's mess, and Arizona must clean it up regardless of what happens in Washington.

The bipartisan support for the measure calling for Arizona to opt out of NCLB is no fluke. Arizonans of all stripes prefer to manage their own affairs, especially when the alternative is federal micromanagement.

Fifty years ago, Senator Barry Goldwater opposed the first federal K-12 spending bill, noting that "federal aid to education invariably means federal control of education." The decision to opt out would result in foregoing federal funds, but would also free Arizona schools from considerable federal compliance costs.

Lawmakers will certainly hear from those fearful of losing federal funds, but those funds represent only two percent of Arizona's budget. Policymakers of Arizona, unite. You have nothing to little to lose but your chains.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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