(CNSNews.com) - As school districts across the country prepare for what educators see as the most sweeping changes in the federal regulation of public education since the mid-1960s, many experts are adopting a wait-and-see approach regarding the much-touted "No Child Left Behind Act."
"It's an awesome increase in bureaucracy and layers of control," Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, said of the mammoth legislation. "Changing the public schools is like a canoe trying to turn around an aircraft carrier," she said.
The centerpiece of President Bush's proposal for education reform, the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (H.R.1) revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), by seeking to redefine the federal role in K-12 education.
The law received strong bipartisan support in Congress and Bush signed it in January.
Among others, the legislation expands options for parents, puts pressure on schools to improve academic standards, increases local control on education funds and gives local people more say about which programs they think will help their students the most.
The act also calls for greater accountability. All schools are required to administer tests to grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12, beginning in the 2002-03 school year. Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, tests must be administered every year in grades three through eight. In the 2007-08 school year, science achievement must also be tested.
However, the bill supports programs that have not proven themselves historically as being effective, including about $7 billion in Title 1 funding that goes to schools in high-poverty areas, said Krista Kafer, a senior policy analyst for education with the Heritage Foundation.
"What's new is letting kids transfer to other schools," Kafer said.
The legislation enables parents with a child enrolled in a failing school to transfer their child to a better performing public school or public charter school.
However, only a small percentage of parents want to transfer their children out of failing public schools, Kafer said, and not all of these parents have the opportunity to do so because many districts have restricted the number of students that can transfer.
"But those parents that have succeeded in transferring their children to better schools - I think for those children, things are going to be better," she said.
Kafer praised the legislation for raising the expectations of parents, teachers and students.
"It's got people thinking in terms of achievement and mastery over subject matter and [the expectation] that everyone's going to have to be tested," she said. "You can't just hide the fact that some of these kids don't know the material."
She added: "I think philosophically and culturally speaking, we could see some positive things come out of this push for achievement for those kids that are able to transfer."
Schlafly said conservatives succeeded in adding some pro-family amendments to the bill, including one that would deny federal funds to any state that discriminates against the Boy Scouts. Another requires parental consent for intrusive surveys and another stipulates tests should test knowledge rather than attitudes and behaviors.
"But that's about the best we could do," Schlafly said. "The bill was just going through Congress on a steamroller."
Schools and teachers also are expected to get a boost from the more than $4 billion in 2002 that allows schools to promote teacher quality through training and recruitment.
A recent report by the Education Trust estimated that one out of every four classes taught at public middle schools and high schools in the United States is taught by a teacher not trained in the subject, the Committee on Education and the Workforce reported.
The ratio is even worse in school districts serving high percentages of disadvantaged children, the report said.
E-mail a news tip to Lawrence Morahan.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.