The New Kid Shows Promise
Ohanian Comment; Refreshing approach, indeed. This is a euphemism meaning she's sneakier than Paige. Allowing states to measure student achievement by their incremental improvement each year sounds sensible, even high-minded. And how many states have the technology to come anywhere near doing this?
The editorialists conclude with "any teacher knows that." Hmph! They should try asking a few hundred thousand teachers what they know.
Margaret Spellings has brought a refreshing approach to the job of U.S. Education secretary. Although predecessor Rod Paige exhibited an unrelenting adherence to the bureaucratic minutiae of the No Child Left Behind Act, Spellings has outlined an approach to school reform that focuses on the important matters: Are kids learning better? Are disadvantaged children catching up?
States that do a good job in these areas can expect flexibility on the details, Spellings said. She started off this new era by allowing far more special-education students to take tests tailored to their needs. Up to now, all but the most profoundly disabled have taken the same standardized tests as everyone else, an unpopular exercise in failure.
Spellings also seems to be opening the door to a far more controversial change — allowing states to measure student achievement by their incremental improvement each year, rather than by expecting a certain number of low-achieving students to reach a defined proficiency. California and many other states measure yearly progress, and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell saw Spellings' announcement as a sign of hope. It's a saner way of measuring student growth — as long as states make sure that poor and minority students are truly catching up to the rest. Spellings has expressed absolute commitment to that idea.
We like her style. But as welcome as Spellings' priorities are, there's potential for problems — including personal or political favoritism — in a system that allows deals to be made on a state-by-state basis. The No Child Left Behind Act was specific about what constituted improvement. It was often wrongheaded, but it was clear.
Spellings could face legal challenges if the act's supporters feel she's thwarting it. The way to create fair rules for improving education is by legislatively fixing the act, not forcing the Education secretary to find ways around it.
Such change is unlikely before the law comes up for reauthorization in 2007, and the Bush administration might see the new approach as the only way to build enough popular support to get the act renewed. States have been in open revolt against it.
This week, Connecticut prepared a lawsuit against No Child Left Behind, and the Utah Legislature is considering a bill that would allow the state to ignore its mandates — along with its important requirements for improving achievement among disadvantaged students. Until reauthorization, Spellings will have a narrow line to walk. Allaying valid concerns about the act is essential, but so is setting out clear and consistent rules. Any teacher knows that.
Los Angeles Times
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