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NCLB Outrages

Schools criticize No Child statistics

"My gravest concern of all is that in a few years we will have turned these systems over to the private sector, who will loot our cities and not educate our children."
--Superintendent David Estrop

by Patrick O'Donnell

Lakewood - Rocky River students passed three federal tests last year so the district is lauded as a success. Students in neighboring Lakewood passed six.

Yet, the federal No Child Left Behind program labels Lakewood schools as failing and Rocky River as doing well.

Lakewood Superintendent David Estrop finds that conclusion both unfair and misleading. Lakewood - just because it's larger and more diverse than Rocky River - has to meet more requirements to earn the same success ratings.

"Larger, diverse school districts are at a disadvantage," Estrop said. "The school districts and the children in it are being labeled failures."

The First Ring Superintendents Collaborative, made up of 13 suburban districts, agrees with Estrop. It recently sent a letter to state and federal legislators seeking changes in the law.

No Child Left Behind separates students into 10 different subgroups, mostly based on race or economics. Each group must pass performance tests for a school district to meet standards. If just one of those 10 groups does not pass - students who have English as a second language, for example - the entire district does not pass muster and can face sanctions.

If a district has fewer than 20 students in any of those subgroups, or fewer than 45 for special education students, the group score is not counted.

Last year, Lakewood had enough students to be measured in eight categories, but only six passed.

Rocky River passed all three categories it qualified under, but the performances of its black, Hispanic, multiracial, economically disadvantaged and limited English proficient students were not counted, as they were in Lakewood.

The differences play out in other districts. The slightly larger, but less diverse, Strongsville schools needed to pass six. Parma schools must meet nine categories, Shaker Heights seven and Euclid and Cleveland Heights-University Heights six each. Meanwhile, districts like Hudson and Westlake must pass only four and a few, like Kirtland, must pass only two - white students and all students.

Estrop's concerns go beyond simple labels. Districts - and individual schools - that do not meet standards must send letters to parents explaining the shortcoming. In addition, if a district continues to have any subgroup fail - even if the student body as a whole passes - the state could eventually take control of the school or district, and even contract management out to a private company.

"My gravest concern of all is that in a few years we will have turned these systems over to the private sector, who will loot our cities and not educate our children," Estrop said, stressing he hopes he is wrong. "Their intent is on making a profit."

The First Ring Superintendents Collaborative last month wrote to Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich to ask for changes in how special education and non-English speakers are tested and counted, for "more equitable requirements" for schools and for the federal government to pay for the program.

"I think there's enough concern that we'll get some discussion," said James Connell, the group's head.

Estrop's concerns may be overstated on some points. In outlining his issues with No Child over the last several months, Estrop has repeatedly said Lakewood had to meet 112 standards and Rocky River only 24.

But the difference principally is due to Lakewood having more schools.

Most of the 112 standards apply to individual schools, which can fail No Child on their own, even as the district as a whole passes. The total covers both math and reading tests by grades and counts whether the district had enough students in each category take the proficiency tests.

Because Rocky River has just four schools compared to Lakewood's 14, the per-school average becomes far less dramatic. Individual schools in Lakewood average four categories of students while Rocky River schools average three.

— Patrick O\'Donnell
Cleveland Plain Dealer


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