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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind Opposition Growing

WASHINGTON - The Coachella Valley Unified School District is joining a growing national chorus of critics seeking to fix the No Child Left Behind Act.

The school board voted Thursday night to file suit against the state of California over its implementation of the federal law, which was a key domestic program passed during President Bush's first term.

And the superintendent of the district said he would leave the option of suing the federal government open - but that No Child Left Behind seemed to be imploding by itself.

The law requires annual student testing in reading and math with the goal of improving the academic performance of all children, regardless of their race, ethnicity or family income.

But many states and school districts say the education law is too rigid and doesn't take into account schools that have large numbers of special education, low-income or immigrant students. Too many schools have been labeled failing by the Education Department, they say.

States and school districts across the nation have reacted against the law in several ways, including:

Utah's governor agreed this week to hold a special session to vote on a bill to make its state education law paramount to the No Child Left Behind Act.

An Illinois school district sued the U.S. Education Department last month to invalidate a portion of the law after its elementary and high schools failed to meet federal standards for progress

California is seeking a waiver of federal rules that define failing schools.

California allows schools to avoid being labeled failing if students from low-income households reach a certain score on a separate test. But the Education Department wants California to remove that exemption, which would cause the number of failing school districts to balloon from 14 to 310.

Coachella Valley Unified, with more than 80 percent of its students classified as English Language Learners, is already one of the list of the 14 failing school districts. If the Education Department gets its way, both Palm Springs Unified School District and Desert Sands Unified School District would be added to the failing list.

State and federal education officials still are negotiating a waiver, said Tina Jung, a spokeswoman for the state education department, but no deadline has been set.

"What's happening is that a lot of these (immigrant) kids come into the school district in September for the first time and a few months later they're taking tests in a language that they don't know," she said. "The federal government really needs to be more flexible in its accountability."

The Coachella Valley school district is a compelling example of needing a waiver from national benchmarks, said Tom Hutton, staff attorney at the National School Boards Association.

If schools remain on the Education Department's failing list, the consequences can include directing Title I money away from student programs like tutoring and after-school programs to staff training, replacing teachers and principals, and even having the state take over the school district, Hutton said.

"The consequences broaden and deepen every single year," he said. "Some of the states are freaking out a little because they're seeing the writing on the wall."

The Education Department's media relations staff did not respond to phone calls made Wednesday and Thursday.

In a report issued last week, a task force of the National Conference of State Legislatures said the No Child Left Behind Act creates too many ways for schools to fail because it holds all schools to the same standards.

— Doug Abrahms
Desert Sun


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