The Demise of Public Education
Superintendent: No Child Left Behind Dooms Schools to Failure
By Michael Jennings
Ludlow schools are hitting their marks on federally mandated measures of school progress, but Superintendent Elizabeth Grause's pride is tempered with gloom about the long-term effects of the No Child Left Behind law.
The law is "sounding the demise for public education as we know it," Grause said.
That's not immediately apparent from results released last week by the Kentucky Department of Education. Most schools in Northern Kentucky and statewide made what the law defines as adequate yearly progress on measures of math, reading and other academic criteria.
Statewide, 74 percent of the 1172 public schools made adequate progress. In the 14 school districts in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, 66 of 81 schools—81 percent—met all progress goals.
The 15 schools that missed goals were in the Boone, Campbell and Kenton County districts, and the Bellevue, Covington and Newport Independent districts. All those districts except Bellevue also missed some district-wide goals.
The federal law imposes escalating requirements for schools and districts that receive Title I funding for supplemental instruction and that fail to make satisfactory progress for two or more years. Covington's John G. Carlisle Elementary School has fallen short for three consecutive years; Holmes Senior/Junior High School and Two Rivers Middle School—which for state scoring purposes are considered a single school encompassing grades six through 12—have missed their goals for two straight years.
Covington Independent Schools Assessment Coordinator Jeff Volter
The Covington and Campbell County districts have also failed to make adequate yearly progress for three consecutive years. Schools that miss goals for multiple years may be required to allow students to transfer to more successful schools, offer supplemental services or draw up plans for a change in school governance.
"Extremely High Standard"
The transfer option has been open to students at John G. Carlisle School since last year. Students at Latonia Elementary School could transfer for the past two years, but the new scores show Latonia making satisfactory progress.
Jeff Volter, assessment coordinator for the Covington district, said no family has so far requested a student transfer under the law.
All NKY schools met at least 75 percent of their target goals except for Two Rivers and Holmes, where the combined results met only 31 percent of goals. During the new school year, a state-assigned highly skilled educator will assist each of those schools, and a team of outside educators will aid the faculty at John G. Carlisle.
States can choose the measurement tools they use to comply with the federal law. Kentucky uses its Core Content Tests, its accountability ratings of elementary and middle schools and high schools' graduation rates.
That amounts to an "extremely high standard," Volter said, adding that it will become increasingly hard, especially for students with disabilities, to keep up with the law's requirements. Signed into law in January 2002, No Child Left Behind requires schools to achieve proficiency by 2014 for all students tested for reading and math.
The three-school Ludlow district fell short on some measures last year but met all its goals this year. At Ludlow Elementary School, more than half the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches—a measure of poverty often associated with educational difficulties—yet 95 percent of the students tested earned proficient or distinguished scores in reading.
"So we're doing something right," said Grause.
A Setup For Vouchers?
But the law probably dooms all schools to eventual failure, she said, because of its lofty goals for sub-groups, including minority and low-income students and those with disabilities.
Her district has high expectations for its 1,000 students, Grause said, "but we also have realistic expectations." Eventually, she added, even schools in affluent districts will be unable to keep pace with the law's steadily rising targets.
Grause believes that's intentional, that the law was enacted "to grease the skids for vouchers," which allow the use of public funds to pay students' costs at private schools.
"So I think it's sounding the demise for public education as we know it," she said.
Nationally, the federal law has drawn fire from educators and states' political leaders, some of who call it overly intrusive and an unfunded mandate. Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Board of Education, said the board agrees with the concept behind No Child Left Behind—"that it's important for schools to be held accountable for the performance of all of their students, particularly their subgroup populations"--but not with the way the law has been implemented.
But Elissa Plattner of Camp Springs, a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an influential advocacy group, doubts whether the federal law helps much in a state with a homegrown method for holding schools accountable that's as highly developed as Kentucky's.
"Kentucky is far ahead of some of the regimen of No Child Left Behind," said Plattner, who formerly taught in Campbell County and now teaches writing at the University of Cincinnati at Claremont.
If the law spurs states to take aggressive steps to remedy low educational achievement, "then it does have value," but most states, at their own initiative, have joined a nationwide wave of education reform, she said.
"And No Child Left Behind is on a raft, just paddling fiercely to catch up with the wave."
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES