Stand Firm for Educational Fairness
Ohanian Comment: Same old, same old from New York Times ideologue who has supreme confidence in tests (and doesn't know a thing about education).
The Bush administration jeopardized the most important education reform of the last 100 years when it failed to fully finance the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to improve scholastic achievement for poor and minority children in return for federal dollars. The shortfall in funds has not only made it more difficult for some states to comply, but has also provided a handy excuse for those who don't believe that the achievement gap between white and minority children can ever be closed - or don't want to make the effort to try.
Right now, when the law is under attack from all sides, it's important to divide the critics who want to make it work better from those who simply want to see it go away. It can't be a coincidence that the states most actively opposed to No Child Left Behind have poor records when it comes to the very issues the federal law is supposed to address.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, made headlines this week when it engineered a lawsuit asserting that No Child Left Behind illegally requires states to spend their own money on enforcing new federal requirements. The N.E.A. has misrepresented the law to the public from the start, and the primary aim of its suit is to throw out the baby with the bath water. The union doesn't want a better No Child Left Behind Act; it wants to make the law disappear entirely.
The new law has also drawn protests from Connecticut and Utah, two states where the achievement gaps between white and minority children are among the largest in the nation. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who has been working to fix some of the genuine problems with the administration of the law, struck the right tone this week when she notified Utah that if it insisted on substituting a weaker system of its own choosing for the federal rules, it could potentially lose federal funds.
That same warning should apply to Connecticut, which has threatened to sue the federal government over the portion of the law that requires annual student testing in grades three through eight. The testing is necessary to ensure that the states are actually closing the achievement gap between white and minority children.
Connecticut, which already tests in some grades, argues that testing every year in the grades required by the law would be of no value. But it would be extremely valuable to the parents of at-risk children, who should not have to wait two years to find out whether the schools are actually helping their children.
The No Child Left Behind law has been a success on many levels - particularly in reorienting the thinking of the school districts that used to average out success by letting the stellar achievements of middle-class students wipe out the failures on the bottom. But it will take years, and far more work and money, before the public sees the kind of improvement it has a right to expect. Right now, everyone who cares about quality education for all children should be working to make that happen, not to dismantle what has already been done.
Secretary Spellings should make it clear that Congress meant business when it declared an end to educational inequality and required the states to actually teach impoverished children in exchange for getting federal aid. Money is clearly crucial, but the argument over funds should not be allowed to derail the new law, which is already showing that achievement gaps can be narrowed if the schools apply themselves.
New York Times
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