Realistic About NCLB
Washington's flexibility on the federal No Child Left Behind law is a small improvement. But as mounting expenses to Palm Beach County show, the law risks hurting the students it is supposed to help.
The district has set aside $11 million to cope with NCLB sanctions on schools that fail the "adequate yearly progress" standard two years in a row. The money had been set aside for teachers and materials for poor schools. Much will be spent instead to bus students to "better" schools. The wasteful loophole is that even students making good grades have the right to transfer.
As demonstrated by the waivers granted this month by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at Gov. Bush's request, the standards that failed many schools were not realistic. Bad FCAT scores from a few students could fail an entire school. NCLB divides students into subgroups, such as by ethnicity, and requires that all subgroups pass.
Before, any subgroup with at least 30 students affected the entire school's grade. The new rules incorporate grades only for subgroups that make up at least 15 percent of the student body. The new standard helps bring the federal grade more in line with the state grade. Last year, 68 percent of Florida schools got an A or B from the state, but only 23 percent passed the NCLB. But many schools that get good state grades still will fail under NCLB.
The waiver, though, turns No Child Left Behind into an irony. Grades of many more students won't be counted. Those newly left out will tend to be minorities thatNCLB was supposed to focus on.
Another waiver reduces the percentage of students in each subgroup who must pass the FCAT. Florida's education secretary, John Winn, unconvincingly says that's not a lower standard because all students still have to be on grade level by 2014 — when most of today's political players conveniently won't have to worry.
Since Mr. Winn brings it up, it never will be realistic or honest to claim that NCLB can live up to its name. The waivers for Florida will be the first of many as the system admits that some children never will make adequate yearly progress. The unanswered question is whether NCLB actually helps more students make better progress.
Palm Beach Post
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES