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No Child Left Behind Act placed on the back burner

WASHINGTON – As the No Child Left Behind education policy of President Bush heads toward its last authorized year in 2007, reauthorization efforts have moved to the back burner at least until after the November elections, according to attorney Carol Barbero of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker. Barbero has an extensive background working on Indian education issues from Washington, including NCLB.

Barbero emphasized that as a lawyer, she doesn’t make policy. But looking ahead, she said it’s likely Congress will reauthorize NCLB as it stands for one year when it expires in 2007.

The program requires that students meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks as the price of continued federal funding. It has come in for heavy criticism from states that complain it isn’t adequately funded.

But in Indian country, funding is secondary, said Ryan Wilson, executive director of the National Indian Education Association. The problem for Indian country is that as school systems have aligned their curricula to meet the state tests that determine adequate yearly progress, they have quashed local control, tribal control, parental involvement and creativity.

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Wilson added that Native people are not generally represented on state testing boards, which he termed “some of the last vestiges of segregation.” The boards do not recognize the paucity of resources at Indian schools. As a result, Wilson said, “They’re expecting equal results from unequal circumstances.”

Taking local Indian issues into account shouldn’t be equated with “dumbing down” curricula, he said. Rather, NCLB should include the flexibility to recognize unique circumstances.

NCLB is bound to be reauthorized because it is simply another name for elementary and secondary education, Wilson said.

When reauthorization comes around, he said Indian country will have a seat at the table by virtue of the field sessions NIEA and others have promoted in Indian country. The first priority of the reauthorization process will be to “strengthen our statute,” he said, specifically Title VII.