. . .May Go Down In History as the Most Unpopular Piece of Education Legislation Ever Created
THE federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002 may go down in history as the most unpopular piece of education legislation ever created. It has been criticized for setting impossibly high standards — that every child in America must be proficient in reading and math by 2014 — while providing meager financing, as President Bush has budgeted billions less than what the law allows.
Roy Romer, the Los Angeles superintendent, has called the law's "adequate yearly progress" assessment standard a "bad system" and told his people to ignore its "arbitrariness." Arne Duncan, head of the Chicago schools, has described the law as impractical and burdensome and challenged provisions he felt would harm his schools.
The law allows students at schools labeled failing to transfer out. In Chicago, 19,000 applied for transfers, but Mr. Duncan approved just 1,100. In Los Angeles, there were 229 transfers. Joi Mecks, a Chicago schools spokeswoman, said: "If this law was going to cause overcrowding, we were not going to do it. Everyone knows 40 in a class is not sound educationally."
And yet, that is precisely what has happened in New York City. The mayor and the chancellor — who have been quite restrained in their comments about the law — said yes to all 8,000 federal transfer requests, contributing to the worst overcrowding of city schools in years.
Now it turns out that about a third of the 8,000 transfers — children often traveling over an hour to attend crowded schools — have been moved from one school labeled failing under the law to another failing school.
Louise Curcio has been teaching at Public School 19 in the Bronx for 25 years and has never seen such crowding. The school was built for 325 children, but with 30 new federal transfers now has 450. Ms. O'Boyle's eighth grade has 40, Ms. Murphy's sixth grade 37. The chancellor promised to ease crowding by adding teachers and splitting classes, but there is not a free room. The library is being used by a fourth grade class; the cafeteria doubles as a gym. And P.S. 19 is failing by federal definition. It failed to make adequate progress on state tests two years in a row; 70 percent of eighth graders last year failed the math test. "Why would they send us more children?" asked Christina Pedone, parent association president.
At Middle School 141 in the Bronx, which grew to 1,130 from 1,060, there is a shortage of desks, class size has jumped to 34 from 29, and to accommodate transfers, a basement storage room was converted to a classroom. M.S. 141 is a failing school; 71 percent of eighth graders failed the state English test, 75 percent failed math. "Why did they send transfers?" asked Jeffrey Dinowitz, a local state assemblyman. "N.C.L.B. will destroy that school."
Overcrowding breeds tension. Intermediate School 192 in the Bronx has grown this year to 1,370 from 1,211, said James Vacca, community board manager. The police last week arrested four students at the school for assaulting another student. I.S. 192 is another failing school; 67 percent of eighth graders failed the math test last year. "Scores have been going down," said Rose Foley, a local school board member. "How could they send more students?"
How could they? As might be expected from a law that tries to create a single accountability formula for every American school, No Child Left Behind is replete with technicalities and split hairs. If a school has failed to make adequate progress on tests for two years and receives federal Title I funds, then students, including the 8,000 in New York City, are entitled to transfer out.
But if a school has failed to make adequate progress for two years, yet is not a Title I school — P.S. 19, M.S. 141, I.S. 192 — then it can receive transfers under the federal law; indeed, more than 100 such failing city schools have received transfers.
In New York City, there are so many poor children that the difference between Title I and non-Title I schools has little meaning. To qualify for Title I aid, a city school had to have 69 percent of students on free lunches. M.S. 141, a non-Title I school, had 64 percent. So if M.S. 141 had 5 percent more free lunches, students would be transferring out instead of in. If you physically picked up M.S. 141 and carried it a mile, to suburban Westchester, where schools with 10 percent free lunches get Title I aid, students would be transferring out, not in.
And though most of the transfers had been failing at their old schools, M.S. 141 will get no extra federal help for these extra children because it is not a Title I school.
For his part, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in granting the transfers that he had worked hard to balance the need of a child "stuck in a dead-end school" and at the same time "not swamp the boat" of schools receiving transfers. "Given the size of the system, we did a rather good job. Did we do perfect?" he asked. "No."
Some, like Randi Weingarten, the teachers' union president, have said that as a Republican, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg did not want to take on the Bush administration over the federal law. The chancellor denied this, saying "nothing is served" by turning a tough equity issue into politics.
Others suggest that the overcrowding can be traced to the mayor's reorganization, which forced out experienced administrators and replaced them with managers who can read spreadsheets but have never visited P.S. 19, M.S. 141 or I.S. 192.
Recently, Mr. Klein had his photo taken with Bill Gates, who presented the city with $51 million to create small high schools. But principals of small high schools, like Louis Delgado of Vanguard in Manhattan, say transfers have devastated them this year. Vanguard went to 440 students from 330. The federal transfers scored the lowest level on state tests, 1. Many are over-age, 16- and 17-year-old ninth graders. Mr. Delgado has no other administrators and instead used his resources to hire teachers and keep class size small. Until this year, he had 22 to a class; now it is 30. "We've had more fighting in one month than we did all last year," he said. "And there's no extra resources. It destroys morale."
In 'No Child Left Behind,' a Problem With the Math
New York Times
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES