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NCLB Outrages

Demanding vs. Doing

The Editorialist who refuses to see complication and difficulty (and doesn't bother to investigate) strikes again. The Times ignores protests about its editorial policy, but we should keep trying.

The story of the No Child Left Behind Act is all about the huge gap between setting standards and creating the conditions in which those standards can be met. One of the law’s most critical provisions requires that all public school teachers in core academic courses be “highly qualified” by this year. But as The Times’s Sam Dillon reported yesterday, not a single state has met the deadline.

The fault lies partly with the early appointees of the Bush administration who controlled the Education Department when the law was passed. They virtually ignored the teacher qualification provision, and the states got the message that they could follow the bad old status quo as long as they wished. Happily, the current education secretary, Margaret Spellings, appears to be taking the law at its word. She recently required states to submit plans showing how they would supply impoverished students with qualified and more experienced teachers.

But changing the teacher preparation and assignment systems as they stand today will be far more difficult than compiling the reports. The states fought tooth and nail when Congress first approached the teacher quality problem in the 1990’s — before No Child Left Behind ever came on the scene. At that point, in a compromise, Congress reverted to another dodge that equates transparency with progress. It attempted to improve the often dismal quality of colleges of education by simply requiring the schools to make public how many of their students had failed teacher certification tests. That clearly hasn’t worked. Colleges of education are still much in need of improvement.

In addition, many of the states have adopted what some have described as an elaborate shell game, setting allegedly high standards for teachers that are then ignored at hiring time. This is especially common in inner-city school districts, which typically have more than twice as many uncertified teachers as affluent districts in the suburbs do.

We hope that Secretary Spellings is serious about solving this problem. To do so, however, she will need to hold the line against a long-established pattern of misrepresentation and foot-dragging in the states. That will mean leveraging the billions of dollars that the federal government spends on education in a way that actually rewards the states that perform well while punishing those that don’t.

— Editorial
New York Times


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