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NCLB Outrages

It's Official: No Child Left Behind Act nearly perfect

Ohanian Comment: Sputter. Sputter. This truly is hard to believe. But this the Administration mantra: We are doing everything right.

By Ben Feller, Associated Press

WASHINGTON Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said today the No
Child Left Behind Act is close to perfect and needs little change as
its first major update draws near.

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent
pure or something," Spellings told reporters. "There's not much needed
in the way of change."

Spellings' comments signal what amounts to the Bush administration's
starting position as the law comes up for renewal. That is scheduled to
happen as soon as next year.

It is unsurprising that Spellings strongly supports the law. She helped
craft it as President Bush's domestic policy chief and now enforces it
as the top education official.

Yet her view that the law needs little change is notable because it
differs so sharply from others with a stake, including many teachers,
school administrators and lawmakers.

Already, the House education committee is holding hearings on how to
improve the law. So is a prominent bipartisan commission, which is
touring the nation to gather opinions.

More than 80 organizations have signed a statement urging fundamental
changes, in areas such as how student progress is measured and how
schools are penalized when they fall short. And the National Conference
of State Legislatures has given the law a scathing rebuke.

"You cannot ignore reality," said Reg Weaver, president of the National
Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country.

"The reality is that poll after poll speaks to the concerns that people
have," Weaver said. "They are not arguing with the goals. They are not
arguing with accountability. But they say something needs to be done to
fix this law."

Signed by Bush in 2002, the law is widely considered the most
significant federal education act since Congress approved its original
version in 1965.

It aims to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level
by 2014, an aspiration that has placed unprecedented demands on
schools. The law requires states to increase testing, raise teacher
quality and give more attention to minority children.

Poor schools that get federal aid but don't make enough progress face
consequences.

Spellings has made her mark as secretary by enforcing the law with
flexibility.

In areas such as tutoring and testing, she has approved experiments to
see what may work better an approach that has won her praise.

"I think it would be foolhardy for me to sit up here and just say we're
not going to react to anything that we're learning over time," she said
in an interview with reporters at the Education Department.

Spellings said her job is to present Congress with good data to help
lawmakers do their job. She said she is open-minded about ways to
improve the law.

But when asked if she meant the law is truly "99.9 percent" close to
working properly, she said, "I think it is that close."

She pointed as much to attitudes as test scores.

Now, she said, states and schools are debating how better to help
children with limited English skills and students with disabilities.

"Just the level of sophistication of the conversation around these
issues is, to me, the big news out of No Child Left Behind," she said.

— Ben Feller, Associated Press
Houston Chronicle
2006-08-31


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