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No Child Left Behind is failing

by Clarence Lusane

The education president's education project is failing. President Bush's No Child Left Behind law has generated increasing bipartisan resistance among legislators and at the grass-roots levels.

Passed in 2001, the act was supposed to launch uniform national standards to measure the performance of U.S. public schools and determine whether they were failing.

One of its stated goals was to reduce the academic achievement gap between minority and poor children on one side and those from more privileged backgrounds on the other. In many cities around the nation, the black and Hispanic dropout rates exceed 50 percent, and in some poor areas, the rate is even higher.

Since the law passed, dozens of states have requested and received permission to alter significantly the way they measure student progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. These deals have become necessary because, under the law, failing or failed schools are punished by the loss of all federal funding.

Recently, 20 states have applied to make the changes for either the current school year or the next year. They want to receive credit for students who, at the minimum, are moving toward proficiency in reading and math.

In the 2004-2005 school year, of the 50,000 high-poverty schools in the country, 9,000 are considered failed schools. This is a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

States and schools continue to protest that they have not received the resources to achieve the mandate that the administration has demanded.

And two important recent studies have blasted the administration of No Child Left Behind.

In 2005, a bipartisan report from the National Conference of State Legislatures termed the federal government's role under the law "excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education." The report also concluded that No Child Left Behind conflicts with legislation related to disabled students.

What's more, although the act was supposed to address the racial divides in U.S. education, a study by Harvard's Civil Rights Project suggests that the opposite may be happening.

This report criticizes the administration for allowing states to deviate from the legislation in ways that demonstrate a racial bias.

For example, it says some rural areas in Midwestern states were granted extensions related to teachers achieving the qualifications mandated under No Child Left Behind. These areas were disproportionately white. Meanwhile, other poorer, urban areas with significant numbers of black, Hispanic and other minorities were denied this option, thereby jeopardizing federal funding in schools that were already resource poor.

Despite the rising cry to reform the legislation, even from many Republican areas, the administration mechanically states that the act is working. The president is not only dismissive but also contemptuous of any challenges to No Child Left Behind.

This stubbornness suits neither him nor the nation's students well.

Contact Lusane, an associate professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C., at pmproj@progressive.org.

— Clarence Lusane
The Sun News


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