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Schooling Katrina Survivors: Two Editorial Reviews

Kudos to the Houston Chronicle editorial writers, so much more perceptive than he who writes on education at The New York Times. Since Texas has a better record of vaccinating cows than children, we can hope the already strained state health and human services can manage to serve these kids well.

We can also hope that one day soon the Texas writers will abandoned their weak-kneed approach to the test prep mania. For now, kudos anyway.

from the Houston Chronicle

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings should exempt Katrina survivors from TAKS

IMAGINE being 11 years old in an unfamiliar school. Imagine that your home has been destroyed, that relatives are missing, that you have spent days on a roof or in a dark and terrifying stadium. Imagine knowing your new teacher could be fired and your new school closed if you and others like you don't score high enough on the statewide test.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings should regard this scenario as she mulls whether to exempt some 200,000 displaced schoolchildren from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. That is the national law requiring school districts to raise standardized test scores by a specific rate each year. Schools that fail can suffer funding cuts and mass firings.

Last week, as the Houston Independent School District enrolled thousands of young storm survivors, arranged transportation for them and reopened two schools, Spellings met with the National Education Association and other groups to discuss Katrina's aftermath. No conclusions from that meeting were announced. In an interview with National Public Radio, however, Spellings said she was disinclined to waive accountability rules for the Louisianans. "We don't want to write off this school year academically for these kids, and shouldn't, at least not yet," Spellings said.

Her instinct is correct. The school year is just starting. New Orleans children in the care of other states deserve all the attention and encouragement to meet high standards their teachers can lavish. This includes the test preparation that is, for better or worse, the core of today's curricula. But prepping for the TAKS is grueling. It is unfair to make already stressed newcomers worry that bad test scores could harm teachers and schools.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, was one of several advocates urging Spellings to relax the No Child rules. "Until these children, their teachers, districts and families gain their footing, I encourage you to implement the provisions ... that deal with the impact of natural disasters on testing," Weaver wrote.

Schools should administer their required standardized tests to all students. Evacuees should take the tests alongside their classmates. But Katrina survivors' scores should then be separated from their host students' and have no bearing on their school's overall ratings. Teachers, local students and evacuees all will suffer strain this year. But no school should be punished for welcoming outsiders, and no child should regret finding sanctuary in a neighbor's state.

New York Times
The School Year, After Katrina

No one yet knows how many children from the gulf disaster zone will have to go to school elsewhere. By one estimate, a quarter of a million children have been displaced from Louisiana, about half from schools that could be closed for as long as a year. The scope of the problem is already clear in Texas, which is bracing for the possibility that it might have to absorb as many as 60,000 new students. Neither the children nor the country can afford to write off the school year for that many children. Congress needs to get a handle on this problem quickly, and lubricate the placement process by making sure that the receiving states get the money and services they need to cope with this unprecedented influx. The recruitment of teachers, acquisition of books and construction of temporary classrooms must be treated like a critical part of the emergency relief. Congress and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings must also stand their ground against enemies of school reform, who are already using the hurricane as an excuse to weaken crucial provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. The National Education Association is urging that Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi - and states accepting evacuated students - be given outright waivers of the requirement that states provide highly qualified teachers in all classrooms by 2006. That would be outrageous, particularly for a region that historically has had some of the lowest-performing schools in the country. The states have had years to meet this provision - indeed, many are well on the way - and issuing the waivers now would send the wrong message to recalcitrant states elsewhere. None of this means that flexibility will not be required in areas that were hard-hit by the storm, and in the new schools that will have to be opened for Katrina's refugees. Federal law has built-in provisions that allow the rules to be adapted for states in times of emergency. Wherever these children land, it is critically important that schools be up, staffed and running quickly. The students need the sense of order that comes with the regular school routine, and none of them can afford to skip a year of education. That would make them victims of Katrina for a second time.

— Editorial
Houston Chronicle & New York Times


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