Sunday, September 23, 2007

NCLB - Misplaced Loyalty

Cross-posted on "Home of the Free."

Our Constitution leaves to the individual states those powers not specifically designated to the federal government. Although hierarchical supremacy always goes to federal law, there are certain limitations on federal authority that is supposed to be left to the states. However, through a number of means - typically by holding money over the states’ heads - the federal government does influence state law.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is an attempt to control the educational curriculum that has been historically decided at the state level. Although the feds cannot mandate anything regarding curriculum, it can coerce financially strapped state educational institutions with the lure of cash. There is something inherently disingenuous about the federal government collecting taxes from the residents of the various states, ostensibly to be used to run the federal government, only to give it back to the states with strings attached. Unfortunately, this is not at all uncommon in this day and age.

Perhaps if the money were to be used to forward legitimate scholastic goals only, the ends might, perhaps, justify the means. And let us assume that NCLB was created and born of the purest of motives and, further, that the procedures are universally agreed upon and accepted as the best curriculum for all students nationwide. Yes, let’s just suspend all skepticism and grant that such a universal standard actually exists and that the feds have stumbled upon it. And just to add the icing to this unbelievably utopian cake, let us presume that the act has been fully funded and supported by those who championed it. Let’s just say that NCLB has been all it could be…

Then what about section 9528? The section’s heading reads:


The following 297 words buried within the 670-page document codify exactly what its title says. Apparently, NCLB would have our kids be all they can be as well. No access to the students’ names and numbers - no money. Although there is an “opt out” clause, often parents find recruiters have their children’s information only after it is too late, if they find out at all. The recruiter calls in the afternoon, after school is out but before many parents are usually home from work. I am not, however, “many” parents.

I was home when the calls came for my 17 year-old son. The caller ID said “private number,” but when anyone calls on a phone that I pay the bill on, I ask who is calling. There was only one place the information could have come from, but I asked the recruiters anyway just to confirm my suspicion. As it turns out, they were more forthcoming and better informed than the San Juan Unified School District was. Eventually, after many calls, the district’s legal department informed me that they were merely complying with federal law - as though they had no choice. Although it is true that NCLB is a federal law, it is misleading to imply that the district somehow has no choice.

On page 45 of the 2007-2008 Parent Handbook, there is a short paragraph that states federal law permits the access to this information and that parents may opt out - in writing - to Pupil Personnel Services. There is no contact name, no department phone number or address listed. Had I not been home when the recruiters called, I would have never known. The district contends there is a federal law it must comply with - it doesn’t. In fact, although there are certain procedures that must be followed or else the money is yanked, there are no provisions in case the feds renege on their deal; they want compliance even when they won’t fully fund the act.

It is understandable that schools are after every dollar they can get and it is no surprise that the feds would try to regulate - through creative means - anything they can, but it is dismaying that the district would roll over so easily. NCLB offers an opt-out clause, but it doesn’t say how loudly it is to be announced. The San Juan Unified School District chose to burry the information in a place that parents are not likely to find it.

The district has perhaps forgotten where its loyalty lies - and where the vast majority of its money comes from. The opt-out provision of NCLB should be made a priority. It should be a proactive announcement and not a few words buried in a slew of parental reading passed out at the beginning of the year. The recruitment provision goes well beyond any legitimate educational goal and in practice it circumvents the influence a parent has on molding his or her child’s future. The district has a responsibility to give the parent back the first word - and it can do it without risking any NCLB money.

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