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No Child Left Behind could hamstring states

THE UNPRECEDENTED national emergency created by Hurricane Katrina justifies the suspension of the No Child Left Behind act in states that will educate more than a handful of the children whose families evacuated the devastated region.

State education officials in Louisiana and Alabama estimate that 170,000 students -- 35,000 from Mississippi and 135,000 from Louisiana -- will need to be enrolled in schools wherever their families are being housed.

Few of these homeless children will enter school with the usual records such as birth certificates, immunizations, schools attended, grade levels or special needs. It may be impossible to ever recover those records.

Their parents or other relatives, teachers and administrators will have to do the best they can to place these youngsters in the proper grades or, in some cases, in special education.

Children from the New Orleans public schools are coming from a system that performed dismally, in both education and administration, long before Hurricane Katrina. An unknown number of them may prove to be well behind their peers in their temporary or permanent new towns and cities.

On top of these challenges, these entering students may have suffered physically as a result of hurricane evacuations, and all can be expected to have suffered emotional trauma. All have experienced disruption in their education.

Under these circumstances, which were never envisioned when President Bush initiated No Child Left Behind, school systems should not be expected to meet the performance standards required under the act by each state, for the duration of this school year.

No Child Left Behind requires that performance standards be set by each state and met by each school regardless of the income levels, race or special-education needs of the students enrolled. Requirements, usually based on standardized testing, vary by state.

Not every state will absorb significant numbers of homeless children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but those that do take on the burden should not also have to contend with a set of standard performance requirements at the same time.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education should make it clear that school districts enrolling Katrina refugees are eligible to receive federal funds under the McKinney-Vento act, which authorizes funding for the education of homeless students. Already, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has softened the requirements for participation in school feeding programs through the end of the month.

No Child Left Behind was based on the proposition that public schools must properly educate each child regardless of circumstances. But these are extraordinary circumstances, and in the current emergency, No Child Left Behind works against school districts that will take on the task of educating the homeless children of Katrina.

— Editorial
Mobile Register


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