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January 24, 2003

The National School Board

Complaints are rising about the "No Child Left Behind Bill" which mandates a string of requirements on local education curriculum.

But even I hadn't realized that the program gives the Education Department line item veto on textbook selection by local school systems. Read this story where the Education Department may cut off education funds from New York City if it chooses a particular set of textbooks.

Can you imagine the rightwing uproar if the Clinton administration was telling local school boards what textbooks they could or could not use?

Posted by Nathan at January 24, 2003 07:39 AM

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Hint: look who publishes the approved books, and how much those publishers have donated to national Republicans in the last three election cycles or so.

Also: what else do they publish?

Posted by: julia at January 24, 2003 11:34 AM

Can you provide a link to the other requirements? Isn't this the bill that requires high schools receiving federal funds to give contact information on prospective graduates to military recruiters?

Posted by: Kumar at January 24, 2003 04:09 PM

I'm not sure that this is such a big deal, although it represents a level of commitment to pushing on the levers of federalism than will make most states rightsers uncomfortable.

I think this story refers to the Reading First Grants portion of NCLBA/ESEA, not the basic Title I grant that is the staple of federal education aid to lower income school districts and which is a much bigger pool of money. The requirements for receiving your Reading First Grant have less to do with content of the primers than they do with the pedagogical approach.

Having said that, there are often heated efforts to politicize reading pedagogy with some conservatives pushing a line that phonics is the only way and that liberals have ruined school by introducing whole language, and some liberals turning that all around. I've often thought it was pretty weird making pedagogy of this type part of one's ideology, especially when its a pretty cut and dried empirical question (a mixed approach wins, hands down), but there it is.

This administration is a pretty phonics friendly one but not as overboard as some would have it. As little as the man in the Whitehouse really seems to know about economic policy, nuclear non proliferation and civil rights, he actually knows a bit about this. It realy was one of the policy issues that he studied while Governor of Texas. (I personally think this studying worked out better than some of the other studying he has been doing lately - such as stem cell research - but there you have it).

Reid Lyons, the reading czar referred to in the story, has done major social science research into how children read and the factors that can prevent children from reading. Some of this work forms at least part of the basis for the whole if "we don't get them reading by third grade we may never get them reading" school of thought. He's not a political hack or intellectual lighweight and the requirements for Reading First while technical aren't ideological.

What is ideological is that there are lower technical requirements for pedagogy used by private companies seeking funds to provide supplemental services under other portions of the Act. I haven't seen a lot of coverage about it, but while Month by Month phonics might not be kosher for NYC schools it might well be kosher for for-profit vendors selling after school programs.

Nathan's right that the most interesting facet of this particular story is that the administration is getting involved to this extent in Mayor Bloomberg's business. They've said all along that they will be enforcing NCLBA down the line and that states had to have their plans in order. It is a huge departure from not just the Clinton approach. Given some of the serious issues involving unfunded mandates and academic standards -- where the administration made dangerous compromises with states rights -- this sort of enforcement may create a real fire fight.

Posted by: ed muir at January 27, 2003 04:00 PM

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