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Educational Pressures

Surprise. Surprise. Corporate standardista editorialists at the Globe agree with their kin at the New York Times.

STATES ARE aiming criticisms at the No Child Left Behind Law, the signal domestic initiative of President Bush's first term. A panel of state lawmakers this week pointed to anomalies and awkward mandates in the law. And the National Governors Association is beginning its annual Washington conference today and tomorrow with an education summit that will seek to move reform from grade schools into high school. Yet another Governors Association panel will deal with early-childhood education on Monday.

There are indeed serious flaws in the way the law is being implemented. But the need for a strong federal push to improve public education remains great. Bush and Congress should consider state criticisms carefully but insist on changes that improve the competence of public education nationally.

The worst result would be to revert to the patchwork system that existed previously, in which states had almost complete autonomy over education policy. For a long time under this system, far too many states demanded little of their schools and students and achieved less.

The panel of state legislators, organized by the National Conference of State Legislatures, issued a 77-page report containing 43 recommendations. Several seek to resolve frustrations that have led many states to chafe at provisions of the federal law. For instance, some state officials believe that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires states to educate special-needs students in classes with other children who have similar difficulties, while the No Child Left Behind Law wants them mainstreamed into the regular student population.

Some of the legislators' objections should be met with skepticism in Washington, because they seek to give too much latitude to state and local officials, many of whom have done a poor job in the past. The United States will not adopt a national curriculum or -- unfortunately -- even national testing. But any move to give states total autonomy in setting educational standards and assessment methods would make national reform meaningless.

One recommendation that most state legislators and governors agree on is that Bush and Congress should provide funding that comes closer to paying for the steps required by No Child Left Behind.

The governors' summit will focus on important goals, including the need to make high school diplomas reflect an acceptable level of learning and the desire to have high school graduates ready for college or for real jobs once they have the diploma. Full attention should also be given to the unacceptable number of high school dropouts -- a figure that belies the very essence of No Child Left Behind.

Boston Globe


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