Historians debating the merits of renewing No Child Left Behind in 2007

Historians in the News

Next year, Congress is expected to address the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the centerpiece of President Bush's education policy that is slated to expire in September 2007. For some months, the history and social studies communities have been discussing the legislation—its benefits and drawbacks—in an effort to determine whether it will be possible to speak with one voice when NCLB comes before Congress for reauthorization.

In order to facilitate communication between the various communities of interest, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and Junior Achievement Worldwide conducted a two-day summit in mid-September that brought together representatives from several national organizations related to the core social studies disciplines (history, civics, economics, and geography) to discuss NCLB. The purpose of the meeting was to exchange views and to identify areas of agreement regarding the reauthorization of the act. The meeting resulted in the formulation of a working group with a representative from each discipline pledging to make a beginning for developing a unified position on the NCLB reauthorization.

During the summit, panel presentations focused on the recent quantitative evidence that clearly establishes that history and other social studies subjects are being marginalized in elementary and middle schools as an "unintended consequence" of NCLB. Other speakers focused on the importance of civics education in addressing what was characterized as the "achievement gap" in civic engagement by minorities and economically deprived student (often immigrant) populations....

There are pros and cons to delaying action on NCLB. On the one hand, if Congress decides not to directly address the problems and concerns of social studies and history teachers now, it would be unfortunate—it would be students who will be the ultimate losers. On the other hand, by waiting until after the presidential election—especially if the Democrats capture the White House—there may be an opportunity to revamp the NCLB program in a more meaningful, more substantive way. However, Hill insiders and specialists in the history of education knowledgeable about how education policy is formed and evolves over time suggest that there is little evidence to lead one to conclude that there would be a wholesale retreat from NCLB even if the Democrats recapture the White House and Congress. In all likelihood, the program would be somewhat reshaped, perhaps even renamed, but large-scale revamping would be unlikely....

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