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NCLB Outrages

Oregon Governor Calls NCLB a Hoax

Gov. Ted Kulongoski slammed the Bush administration Friday, calling the No Child Left Behind law a "hoax" imposed on states with little money to meet improvement goals for low-achieving students.

"We need a strong federal partner right now, and we don't have one. Today, No Child Left Behind is more about public relations than about public policy," Kulongoski told hundreds of school board members from across Oregon attending an annual conference in Portland.

The Democratic governor said that Oregon has been a leader in raising achievement and that the federal government hasn't adequately funded its own sweeping reform law.

"I'm asking you to demand that the federal government step up to the plate and fully fund No Child Left Behind," he said, drawing applause.

Kulongoski also said that the state should do away with an elected superintendent of public instruction and allow the governor to appoint a schools chief.

His remarks came one day after he shook up the board that oversees Oregon's university system, booting five of 11 members and saying the panel needed to focus on student access and move away from trivial matters.

In an interview, Kulongoski did not indicate how Oregon would challenge the law. He said President Bush has welcomed criticism.

Kulongoski's education adviser is Jim Sager, a former president of the Oregon Education Association. The state's largest teachers union also has been critical of the federal law, saying teachers can't bring all students up to achievement standards if school budgets are cut.

Educators and elected officials elsewhere are increasingly critical of the 2002 federal law. Last month, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called the law burdensome and impractical during a meeting of the Council of Great City Schools, an association of the nation's urban school districts. Daley took over Chicago schools in 1995.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, the former Houston superintendent, fired back.

"No one said the implementation of this law would be easy. Change rarely is. As a former superintendent in one of the largest school districts in the country, I know how tough it can be to make tough decisions about tough requirements," Paige said in a news release. "But the alternative is to continue to ignore the achievement gap and deny children the educational opportunities they deserve."

No Child Left Behind holds schools and states accountable to the federal government for their test scores, teacher credentials and dropout rates. It requires schools to test students in seven grades every year and to give new tests in English proficiency and teacher competence. Schools and states that don't measure up face consequences, including the loss of federal funding.

In Oregon, students attending eight schools that posted poor achievement for at least two consecutive years were allowed by the law to transfer to higher-performing schools. This fall, more than 800 students from Portland's Jefferson, Marshall and Roosevelt high schools and Whitaker Middle School transferred elsewhere.

The law has federal money attached to help those students. For example, Portland Public Schools arranges tutoring out of its $14 million budget for federal Title I funds for low-income schools, said Wei-Wei Lou, the district's interim Title I director. The law specifies that 20 percent of the district's Title I budget is directed toward tutoring, Lou said.

Critics of the law say that's not additional money but comes from the Title I pool of money that has long been set aside to help low-income students.

Lolenzo Poe, the co-chairman of the Portland School Board, said he respects the governor and that the law is not perfect.

"Let's be honest: African Americans, Latinos and poor kids have been suffering for years without a whole lot of money, time attention and focus," Poe said. "No Child Left Behind has really made this country focus on these kids."

— Clifton R. Chestnut
Schools law leaves Oregon in a jam, Kulongoski says


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