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Lots of Chicago Children Being Left Behind

No Child Left Behind is the ambitious name of the federal government's education reform act that President Bush signed in 2002.

It is touted as the most dramatic reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the mid-1960s. Its goals are to have the federal government play a stronger role in K-12
education, boost minority and disadvantaged students' achievement levels, and give parents more options if their children's schools proved, through standardized testing, to be
operating below new federal standards.

The act has noble ideas. How could anyone disagree with the words, the sentiments?

Unfortunately, putting the simple idea of No Child Left Behind into operation isn't proving to be quite so easy. In Illinois, 576 schools (367 of them in Chicago) were informed in early August that they failed to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind. Now those districts must offer students in these schools a chance to transfer to a better-performing school.

Many school districts were left to figure out how to do this by the time this school year begins. Not only that, they had the task of finding the parents and letting them know they now had this option. For some districts, this all had to be done less than a month before school started. What a lot of scrambling
and upheaval!

Now, let's be realistic here. We know all these kids can't move. In Illinois this could involve more than a quarter-million students. Where are they going to go? Take Thornton Township High School District 205. All three of its high
schools didn't meet the act's requirements.

That means no school in that district is eligible to receive students. In published reports, district Supt. J. Kamala Buckner has said no other district has said it will accept the District 205 students. Now what?

There are myriad reasons districts are resistant to accept these students. Certainly, race and class issues factor into some districts' decisions. But for others, there is the fear that adding these students could bring down their own scores next year. This isn't an unfounded concern.

In Chicago, about 40 schools that were eligible to take in students last year found themselves with test scores low enough to put them on the list this year, according to one Sun-Times news story. Now those schools have to offer their
students--including those who started there the previous school year--a choice of another school. All that instability can't be good for any of the students.

I'm not saying the new students alone brought scores down. But you're adding stress on schools often struggling mightily to meet standards. It is no surprise that this results in their own scores dropping, a situation that certainly is unfair to their original students. To combat the problem this year, city schools CEO Arne Duncan said Chicago is ready to put $2.6 million into the 38 receiving schools.

But is that whopping sum coming from the federal government? Earlier this week, Sen. Dick Durbin took the Bush administration to task for the proposed appropriation for the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to Durbin, the proposal is $8 billion less than Congress authorized. It's tragic that school districts, already saddled with the logistics of moving these students around,
aren't given the money they need to make it work.

And all along I keep wondering, what about all those students in schools who can't move? How are they affected by the stigma of truly being left behind in a school labeled as an underperformer?

If the sentiment behind No Child Left Behind were sincere, the federal government would be pouring money and resources into all our schools to make all of them better.

Moving a couple of thousand students around like pieces on a checkerboard is not the answer. But that would take a lot of money--funding the federal government doesn't appear to be willing to spend.

No Child Left Behind is a dandy idea on paper, but so far, it falls short when put into action.

— Sue Ontiveros
Lots of children being left behind despite new federal law
Chicago Sun-Times
2003-08-23


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