Public Policy Update

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act guides our nation's federal investment in all elementary and secondary education. While opinions vary widely on NCLB, the law has thrust elementary and secondary education into the public and political spotlight.

Since Congress enacted NCLB in 2001, providing an adequate education to all children has become a national priority, with a specific focus on bridging the gap between the highest and lowest achieving students. To realize this goal, NCLB reexamined programs and added new money to the U.S. Department of Education budget. It also holds states accountable for their students' achievement. Since being signed into law by President Bush in 2002, all states have developed comprehensive math and English language arts standards and assessments. Science standards and assessments will be added to this list during the 2007-2008 school year.

The objectives of NCLB have received widespread support, and the law was written and passed by Congress on a largely bipartisan basis. Much of the subsequent controversy relates to displeasure with the law being funded below the maximum amount authorized and the punitive measures outlined by NCLB for schools that are found to perform consistently below the law's mandate.

Now, with NLCB set to expire on Oct. 1, Congress once again must reauthorize this law or extend it in its current form. Members of Congress are working now to improve NCLB and have been holding hearings on a wide range of issues, including English Language Learners, students with disabilities, growth models, and the larger picture of the legislation and its strategies. Members of Congress have also encouraged interested parties to provide feedback and recommendations.

To this end, APA and its members have worked to shape this important piece of legislation. On March 29, APA delivered to key congressional member and committee offices a set of comprehensive, organization-wide recommendations on how to improve NCLB.

APA efforts

Staff in APA's Education and Public Interest Government Relations Offices (GRO) worked along with the Education, Practice, Public Interest and Science Directorates to identify and gain a better understanding of the NCLB issues that APA members care about, such as supports for teachers, school violence, the role of parents and perspectives on learning styles. APA staff also looked to the organization's membership, coalitions and task force reports for guidance.

Along with numerous other APA member initiatives, the report of the APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance, chaired by Cecil Reynolds, PhD, professor at Texas A&M University, which addressed the efficacy of zero-tolerance policies in schools, provided strong support for the APA to recommend new violence prevention measures as part of NCLB reauthorization. This included adding social and emotional learning programs to existing character education provisions and new language to allow for bullying prevention and threat assessment activities. These programs have been found to be more effective than zero-tolerance approaches in reducing violence in schools.

APA's Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE), a broadly representative group within the association, has also been an outstanding resource and continues to contribute greatly to the reauthorization discussion. In 2004, CPSE launched a nationwide survey for teachers aimed at pinpointing how psychologists can better meet teachers' professional development needs. Thousands of teachers in 49 states, including the District of Columbia, participated in the coalition's survey. Teachers responding to the survey identified areas including classroom management and instructional skills (promoting critical thinking, motivating students to learn, and designing or implementing challenging curricula) as critical areas for additional professional development. As a result, APA proposed including a definition of teaching skills in the law that incorporates those specific concepts.

Member contributions

APA members have also been instrumental in the development of certain recommendations for improving the law:

  • Lonnie Sherrod, PhD, of Fordham University and chair of APA's Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, provided key recommendations to strengthen the law's provisions addressing civic and character education.

  • Members of the Public Interest GRO convened the Working Group on Parental Involvement to recommend ways to improve relationships between schools and parents.

  • The work of Ruth Chao, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, and Nancy Hill, PhD, of Duke University, led APA to recommend that the federal government provide guidance on the use of parental involvement strategies that are developmentally appropriate for students.

  • Ane Marinez-Lora, PhD, of the University of Illinois-Chicago's Institute for Juvenile Research, suggested defining the concept of "home-school collaboration," which was included in APA's recommendations.

Based on these findings, and following extensive meetings, feedback and the tireless work of APA members, Education and Public Interest GRO staff were able to propose APA's NCLB recommendations to Congress. Other areas addressed by the proposal include assessment issues and the inclusion of a growth model for measuring gains in achievement; English Language Learners; students with disabilities; teacher professional development; and technology-based learning environments, to name a few. APA staff have also worked to develop creative new ideas to put forth in the law. For instance, education staff worked with Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, PhD, to recommend that the law support after-school programs that promote the expandable nature of intelligence and emphasize effort, attention and hard work over end products such as grades.

In addition, GRO staff submitted to the relevant U.S. House and Senate committees the names of APA members with expertise in education policy for consideration as witnesses at hearings.How APA members can help

The Education and Public Interest Government Relations Offices will continue to advocate for changes in NCLB. It is also vital for APA members to remain involved in the reauthorization process by communicating with appropriate APA staff and contacting their U.S. senators and representatives. For information on how to get involved, visit the Education GRO's guide to federal advocacy or contact Jenny Smulson, senior legislative and federal affairs officer for education government relations, at e-mail or Annie Toro, associate executive director for public interest government relations, at e-mail.

Samantha Gaiber-Matlin is the graduate intern in APA's Education Government Relations Office, and Micah Haskell-Hoehl is a policy associate in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.