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NCLB Outrages

Progressive Policy Institute Party Line on NCLB

Ohanian Comment: PPI is a Democratic-affiliated think tank, offering one more piece of evidence that waiting for politicians to fix things is futile. You don't like NCLB? Then you're going to have to do something.

NCLB Implementation

A recent Denver Post article and a report from the Education Trust both focus on the No Child Left Behind Act's widely misunderstood "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) requirements. NCLB requires schools make AYP or be identified as "needing improvement." The AYP requirement was created in the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, but NCLB made the definition of AYP more specific to ensure that states hold schools accountable for subgroups of students (particularly poor and minority students) who have historically been left behind.

Some critics have argued that this has led to too many "good" schools being identified for improvement and that as a result the law is fatally flawed. The Education Trust report aims to counter these assertions by offering concrete examples, from actual schools, which show how a school could appear to have good performance overall even while a substantial subgroup of students is left behind. The report also explains the law's "safe harbor" provisions, which allow a school making substantial progress to make AYP even if it falls short of absolute cut-offs set by the state. The Denver Post article also addresses the issue of generally high-performing schools that fear they will not make AYP due to poor performance by particular subgroups. Educators and school board members from several school districts express a variety of reactions and attitudes toward the law.

We're still struck by the disconnect between this and other education debates. On the one hand, a legitimate concern often raised about voucher programs is that public schools are required to serve all students, while private schools can pick and choose not to accept students that might be more difficult to educate. Yet, many of the same individuals and interest groups making this case essentially negate it when they protest NCLB's requirements that public schools be held accountable for the achievement of underserved student subgroups.

AYP is not perfect, but there isn't a better idea on the table right now about how to ensure equity for poor and minority students on any scale. Given the critical equity and civil rights issues at stake here, the onus should be on critics to present better alternatives. Too much of the current criticism of AYP simply reeks of the self-destructive notion that public schools cannot and should not be held accountable for teaching disadvantaged students because of the myriad challenges involved.

— Progressive Policy Institute
NCLB Implementation
21st Century Schools Project Bulletin: Vol 3, No 20


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