State seeks to block 'No Child Left Behind'
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut -- The Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" policy will lead to "dumbing down" tests in public schools because Washington has not fully funded the policy, the state of Connecticut said in a court hearing Tuesday to try to block the program.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told the U.S. District Court in New Haven that President Bush's signature education policy was "mistaken" and "misguided," as he fought a motion by the federal government to throw out his lawsuit.
The suit, filed in August, makes Connecticut the first state seeking to block the 2002 policy that calls for standardized testing of students.
"If the federal government asks us to undertake the mandate, we would be willing to do it, but they have to provide the money," Blumenthal told the court in New Haven.
Blumenthal said federal funding was not enough for the state to test in a way that maintains its high standards, leaving Connecticut $41.6 million short of what it needs to comply with the law. He said that dynamic would force Connecticut to rely on multiple choice tests rather than costlier written tests which would better challenge students.
"There is always the option of dumbing down the test to the point that would be inadequate, and we are not willing to do that," he said. "We're left with no choice but to either defy the statute or (follow) an interpretation that we believe is mistaken and misguided."
U.S. Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Goitein, representing the U.S. Education Department, said Connecticut was avoiding its obligations and was aware of the law's demands when the state accepted education funding from Washington.
The promise of education reform has bolstered Bush's support among minorities in a country where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school and only 50 percent of black Americans and Hispanics graduate.
Connecticut has taken the strongest legal stand yet against "No Child Left Behind" but other states have also challenged it. A judge in November threw out a similar lawsuit by the National Education Association on behalf of school districts in three states. The state of Utah has rebelled by passing a measure defying the law.
The heart of the law is standardized testing, currently conducted in Connecticut in grades four, six and eight.
The law requires that students also be tested in grades three, five and seven. Scores and other variables like graduation rates can lead to sanctions against poor-performing schools. In some cases, schools can be forced to close.
Tuesday's arguments also focused on whether the federal government would suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding if Connecticut appealed through the Department of Education rather than through the court.
Connecticut has the highest graduation rate in the country. But it also has the nation's worst gap in academic achievement between rich and poor children, with 18 percent of low-income 9-year-olds proficient in reading, against 53 percent of those who are not poor.
Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg says that reflects the extreme wealth and poverty in Connecticut, where Greenwich ranks among America's wealthiest cities and other cities such as Hartford are among the nation's poorest.
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