Some Black and Latino Superintendents Back NCLB
Many of the nation's black and Hispanic school superintendents, including four from Connecticut, lashed out at critics of President Bush's school accountability law Tuesday, saying the criticism is misguided.
More than 100 superintendents said opponents of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act are undermining the fundamental belief on which the law rests: that all children, including racial minorities and low-income students, can succeed in school.
"We need to be held accountable. We should not be making excuses like, `Oh, this kid is from a poor neighborhood,'" said Robert Henry, superintendent of schools in Hartford, one of the signers of a letter urging Congress not to back down on the law's tough accountability requirements.
The letter represents a sharp departure from the widespread criticism of the federal law from the education establishment. Many educators - who often are suspicious of government-imposed reforms - have attacked provisions that penalize schools where minority students, special education students or other groups fail to meet standards.
Critics have included teachers, municipal officials and state education leaders. In Connecticut, the association representing school superintendents opposes parts of the law, including a provision that allows children from low-performing schools to transfer out. Among the most vocal critics is the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, which says the law is punitive, fails to target the children who need the most help and lacks sufficient funding.
Although the black and Hispanic superintendents also said Congress should come up with additional money to help schools reach the law's goals, they said in their letter: "We must not use [lack of] funding to escape our responsibilities."
The letter said the campaign to roll back accountability provisions in the law is "a thinly veiled attempt to turn back the clock to a time when schools - particularly in suburban communities - could coast comfortably on the performance of a handful of high-performing students and hide serious problems behind misleading averages."
Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that initiated the letter, had even harsher words for opponents of the law. She accused them of employing "deeply cynical rhetoric," including the suggestion "that these kids, especially poor kids and kids of color, just can't reach the same standards."
The law, signed by Bush last year, expands testing programs and imposes sanctions on schools whose students fail to meet state standards in reading and mathematics. The purpose of the law is to close the achievement gap that finds some groups of children, such as minorities and those from low-income families, lagging behind others. Schools can be singled out even if only one group falls below standards.
Henry, the Hartford superintendent, said he disagrees with some parts of the law. For example, he said, it is unrealistic to expect 100 percent of all students to reach the law's goal of proficiency by 2014. Many special education students and students with limited English skills, for example, cannot be expected to test at proficient levels, he said.
"It's a form letter. I'm picking and choosing parts of the letter that I agree with," said Henry, who added that the main reason he signed is to call on Congress for more funding.
Bridgeport Superintendent Sonia Diaz-Salcedo also said she would like to see more funding but emphatically supported the law's message that all children can learn.
"There are very low expectations about the learning potential for minority students, particularly Latino and African American students," Diaz-Salcedo said. The law "is putting a glowing light on the inequities and disparities that exist from system to system."
Other superintendents from Connecticut who signed the letter were David Snead of Waterbury and Larry Leverett of Greenwich.
One name noticeably absent was Reginald Mayo of New Haven, recently named the state superintendent of the year for his efforts to improve schools in one of the state's poorest cities.
"I'm one who believes you cannot criticize [the law's] concept ... [but] I have to even question the intent when you don't put the dollars behind it," he said.
The law will single out many urban schools as low-performing and demand expensive improvements without providing enough support, he added.
"It comes across as a bullyish kind of thing," he said. "I don't think people work their best under those conditions."
Robert A. Frahm and Rachel Gottlieb
Minority Educators Back Bush Initiative
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES