No Child Left Behind
Watch the Wall Street Journal editorialists cry crocodile tears.
When the Associated Press reported last week that nearly two million mostly minority children "aren't counted when it comes to meeting the law's requirement that schools track how students of different races perform on standardized tests," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's response was something less than urgent concern.
"Is it too many? You bet," said Ms. Spellings. "Are there things we need to do to batten down the hatches, make sure those kids are part of the system? You bet." Other than that, Ms. Spelling didn't have much to say about states' rampant noncompliance with the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, though she did voice assurances that educators are making a good-faith effort.
We wish we could be as confident about Ms. Spellings, whose tenure has been marked by lax enforcement of NCLB. Last month we reported that parents and children in failing schools nationwide aren't being notified of their school-choice transfer and tutoring options, even though notification is a requirement under NCLB. The news that Ms. Spellings is also letting states slide on even reporting the math and reading test scores of minorities is especially disturbing because accountability is the heart of the federal law.
NCLB makes allowances for schools that have racial groups too small to be statistically significant. But states have been abusing their freedom under the law to determine when a group is too small to count. And Washington is letting them get away with it. According to the AP, nearly two dozen states have successfully petitioned the Education Department "for exemptions to exclude larger numbers of students in racial categories." Today about one in 14 test scores overall go uncounted. Minorities, whose test scores on average lag those of white students, are seven times as likely to have their test results ignored. That's an odd way to enforce a law called No Child Left Behind.
"The point of these testing requirements is to put pressure on schools to close their achievement gaps by making those gaps more transparent," says Michael Petrilli, who follows federal education policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "If you're not going to enforce this, what are you going to enforce?"
Good question. We already know that schools would much rather report "average" scores, which let education bureaucrats hide the fact that large groups of mostly poor and minority students aren't learning. Ms. Spellings is under pressure from the education establishment to be "flexible."
School board associations, state boards of education, teachers unions and others have been demanding one type of exemption or another since the law was passed in 2002. Under Ms. Spellings's predecessor, Rod Paige, they were unable to make much progress. The current secretary, however, is herself a former associate executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards. We hope this history isn't the reason that the public education blob is having much more success in weakening NCLB now that Ms. Spellings is in charge.
NCLB's raison d'etre is to hold schools accountable for all of their students; otherwise, why not leave schools to be run by local officials, who pay most of the bills? In return for record amounts of new federal education spending, schools not only are required to test regularly, they are also required to disaggregate the data by race so that parents (and taxpayers) can see who's learning and who isn't.
That can't happen if Bush Administration officials won't enforce their own law. Ms. Spellings's generosity with these exemptions is leaving schools to their own worst devices. And it is hurting the system's most vulnerable children.
Wall Street Journal
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES