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NCLB Outrages

Leave No Grades Behind: High Schools Could Benefit from Bush Push for More Accountability

Ohanian Comment: Here are two views on NCLB, both terribly wrong-headed. People can take short-term heart from the Republican view.

President Bush wants to expand his education reforms beyond middle schools. But persuading parents, teachers and legislators to add federally mandated testing to high schools may prove nearly as difficult for Bush as revamping Social Security.

Here's a quick rundown of the opposition: Teachers who dislike more testing. Conservative Republicans who balk at intruding further into local schools. Democrats and Republicans who object to cutting other education programs to raise the $1.5 billion for the high school reforms.

Just last week, influential moderate Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., pronounced Bush's proposal dead, at least as currently written. Considering that Castle chairs the House Education Reform Subcommittee and backs more high school testing, that's significant.

Yet there are good reasons to support Bush's plan to push his No Child Left Behind reforms deeper into high school. In addition to annual testing, Bush would require high schools to build academic improvement plans for each student, and he'd spread stronger curriculums to more high schools. Recent reports on the quality of high schools leave no doubt they need that attention:

•Low expectations. Only five states require students to take four years of math, and only six states require four years of grade-level English, according to a report released last month by Achieve, an independent education reform group launched by governors and business leaders.

No wonder only a third of high school seniors score at the “proficient” level on national reading tests and just 17% score that high on national math tests. And no wonder a third of college freshmen end up in remedial classes.

•Poor graduation rates. For years, states have low-balled dropout rates. More careful research reveals that for every 100 students entering ninth grade, 30 will never earn a regular high school diploma. In urban districts, the dropout rates are far higher.

•Weak tests. Although 21 states now have some type of graduation exams, most of those tests aim well below the grade being tested. And those tests often measure the wrong things. Scores on high school graduation tests are poor indicators of whether students know what is necessary to succeed in college, according to a study by a University of Oregon education center.

All those reports lead to one conclusion: High schools will not reform themselves.

To date, the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind law has focused mostly on elementary schools. It demands annual testing in grades 3-8 that holds schools accountable for succeeding with poor and minority students. Most state superintendents of education would agree the law has helped those students, who in the past were often neglected.

Will more testing help solve the well-documented high school ills?

Good tests can drive good reforms. That happened when Massachusetts imposed a tough, high-quality graduation test. Schools responded to the initial high failure rates by raising standards to make sure nearly all students were able to pass. Michigan is about to steer its school reforms in the same direction by dropping an inferior high school test and replacing it with a test designed to measure college and workplace readiness.

Of course, high schools shouldn't just ladle on more testing without dropping other tests. And no tests should be added unless they add value for students and teachers.

Nobody likes tests. But high schools could use a stiff jolt of accountability.

Wrong answer for schools
Resources and freedom to choose, not national testing, are solution.

By Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Nobody doubts this president's heart for our kids. As a governor, George W. Bush championed education reform and, upon being elected president, brought his vision for standards and school choice to Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, the defenders of the status quo in education succeeded in turning the president's original vision for education reform into a huge increase in the federal government's role in our local schools. Regrettably, they are at it again as No Child Left Behind II, with national testing for high school students, comes to Congress. The last thing our local schools need is more national testing from Washington.

National testing in elementary schools was always presented as a means of identifying persistently failing schools. The president intended schools to be tested so that we could give the parents of students in these failing institutions a way out through educational-choice scholarships, enabling them to attend another public or private school.

In the end, the school-choice scholarships in the president's original vision were eviscerated from No Child Left Behind, and what was left was national testing in grade school and a 52% increase in the federal Department of Education.

So now comes No Child Left Behind II, a complex regimen of curriculum subsidies and national testing for high school students. Sadly, this plan doesn't even make a pretense of increasing competition through school choice but reverts entirely to the educational micromanagement strategy of the Clinton administration, with federal resources targeted to specific classroom activities.

The American people have always known that government that governs least governs best, especially in those functions of government closest to the family. However well intentioned, one more unfunded mandate from Washington will not cure what ails our local schools. Resources that promote reform through competition and choice will.

There's nothing that ails our local schools that the parents and teachers of America can't solve with the resources and freedom to choose. Say no to more national testing. Say no to No Child Left Behind II.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House.

— Two Views
USA Today


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