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Volume I, Number 11, November, 2003

The NCLB Wrecking Ball

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved

Looming behind the veneer and rhetoric of the Bush education plan is a set of destructive actions that are designed to destroy public education by enabling a huge exodus into risky experimental alternatives.

Misrepresented as a reform effort, NCLB is actually a cynical effort to shift public school funding to a host of private schools, religious schools and free-market diploma mills or corporate experiments in education.

The plan is simple.

  1. Place unrealistic demands on public schools.
  2. Provide too little capacity building support and too little time to meet new demands.
  3. Label schools as failures.
  4. Permit wholesale transfers to a broad range of alternatives.
  5. Mandate transfer of public funding to charters and alternatives.
  6. Fund education of many previously private school children with public monies.
  7. Privatize.
  8. Privatize.
  9. Privatize.

Sadly, few commentators, news reporters or observers have noted or reported this aspect of NCLB, and the educational world seems oblivious to the swing of the wrecking ball.

The architects of this plan are extremely clever, concealing their true agenda behind slogans, bold talk, inflated promises, platitudes and pseudo science.

Investing in High Risk Ventures

Each year the Bush administration has asked Congress to authorize huge sums to fund experiments with choice and charters, despite the Secretary's claim that he will not spend a dime on untested programs. The evidence on the impact of such programs does not meet the Secretary's standards for so-called scientific studies and is far from convincing.

March 5, 2003 - "When It Goes Wrong at a Charter School"
Michael Winerip in the New York Times describes the trials and tribulations of families who have been struggling with disappointing charter schools. "But like a lot of 1990's market miracles, the charter bubble has burst."
November 20, 2003 - "D.C. Charter School Faces Shut Down"
"The Village Learning Center in Northeast has now been placed on academic probation because of poor test scores and financial troubles."
April 8, 2003  - "Study Finds Charter Schools Lack Experienced Teachers" By Sara Rimer in the New York Times
A new study has found that charter schools, an alternative to low-performing public schools, rely heavily on young, uncredentialed teachers. 
October 17, 3003 - "Voucher Flaws and Fixes are Revealed"
Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne unveiled new evidence of problems in Florida's voucher programs on Thursday, even as he proposed new safeguards. From The St. Petersburg Times.
December 3, 2003 - "Dept. of Education Steers Grants to Pro-Privatization Groups, Report Charges"
By John Gehring in Education Week
The Department of Education is providing millions of dollars in grants to a handful of pro-voucher and privatization groups at the same time the Bush administration has underfunded the No Child Left Behind Act, the advocacy group People for the American Way charges in a report.

Fortunately, Congress has turned down the most ambitious of these requests and has resisted the Administration's attempt to authorize and mandate cross district choice programs.

Congress refused to fund, or reduced funding for, some of the President's school choice projects, including no funding for the Choice Incentive Fund, designed to provide parents of children in failing schools money to transfer their children into other public, charter, or private schools. The Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities program to increase charter school options available to parents, also fared poorly in FY 2003 appropriations, receiving only 25 percent of the $100 million requested. Congress did leave in funding for Voluntary Public School Choice, which allows parents to choose any public school for their children.
Source: "Education and Human Resources in the FY 2004 Budget" by Jolene Kay Jesse, AAAS at

The Education Department is aggressively pushing a choice agenda that would create a back door approach to public funding of private schools.


President Bush, Secretary Paige Tout School Choice in Nation's Capital
President and Secretary focus on expanding options for parents, highlight new $15 million program for children in the District of Columbia
(full text)
"I want my second home to become a model of excellence so that when people see the educational entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in D.C., they realize they can do the same in their own communities," President Bush said. "I'm going to request $75 million from the Congress for what we call a choice incentive fund. This will be basically scholarships for students to be able to use the money as they see fit, public or private."

Unfortunately, the push for privatization goes unnoticed by many citizens as do the consequences of spreading already limited public education funds across a much greater student population.

There is not enough money to fund the existing population of public school students, let alone an additional 5,162,684 students. See NEA listing of local budget strains at

The Bush Educational Choice Agenda as reflected in his 2004 Budget Requests

*   School Choice: A total of $756 million is provided to fund an array of school choice programs. Grant funds encouraging public school choice include $320 million for charter schools, $110 million for magnet schools, and $25 million for voluntary public school choice. Two proposals promote public or private choice: a $75-million Choice Incentive Fund that reserves a portion of program funds for school choice in the District of Columbia; and a refundable tax credit for parents of children who attend low performing schools who transfer their child to another school. The credit is worth up to 50 percent of the first $5,000 of qualifying expenses. The estimated outlay expense is $226 million in 2004 and $3.15 billion over 5 years.

Source: House Budget Committee Briefing Book at

The Department claims that all new programs must be based on scientific evidence of effectiveness but often ignores those principles when it comes to pet projects.

Voucher Plan Lacks Method of Assessment
Education Department Will Gauge Progress

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2003; Page C01

The D.C. school voucher plan being considered by Congress does not spell out how the federal government will assess the performance of students receiving the tuition grants, leaving it to the U.S. Department of Education to devise a system for determining whether vouchers are raising academic achievement.

Unfortunately, the Congress may not hold the line against such experiments much longer, as a recent news report indicates that part of the President's plan may be launched in the District of Columbia.

"GOP Reach Deal on D.C. Vouchers Plan"
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Congressional Republican leaders struck agreement Wednesday on legislation to launch the nation's first federally funded school voucher program next fall in the District.
The deal leaves the D.C. voucher program poised to clear final hurdles in House and Senate floor votes as early as this weekend, as time winds down before Congress adjourns for the year.

This article in the Washington Post goes into great detail showing how the DC experiment was packaged in a major budget bill so the Republicans could get around a Democratic filibuster in the Senate:

The measure is contained in a $278 billion federal spending bill that must be voted up or down, without amendments, by Congress to keep the federal government running.

The fight over DC vouchers foreshadows the damage that could lie ahead for public education.

The wrecking ball is swinging into action unless this measure can be blocked. Today we see the feds funding private schools in DC. Next year what will be added? How far are they willing to go?

Start communicating today with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this experiment with school vouchers blocked.

What are the budget implications of this move toward government funding of private schools?

Astronomical . . .

Statistics About Non-Public Education in the United States

In the fall of 1999, there were

* 27,223 private elementary and secondary schools
* 5,162,684 students, and
* 395,317 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers

according to the Private School Universe Survey, 1999-2000 of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Private schools include about 25 percent of the elementary and secondary schools and approximately 10 percent of the elementary and secondary enrollment in the U.S.


Meanwhile, the weak Bush economy has strained local and state resources for education to the breaking point, as the following listing from the NEA illustrates:

There is not enough money to fund the existing population of public school students, let alone an additional 5,162,684 students.

© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.