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NCLB Outrages

The other war -- on public schools

Maybe Bush's voucher plan is a good thing. Maybe it will tick Miller off enough for him to abandon NCLB. Of course, Bush & company know this plan will never fly with the democrats, so may it's just a ploy, so that they'll be anxious to "compromise"--and pass NCLB pretty much as is.

The headline writer got this one right: NCLB is the other war, with lots of parallels to what's going on in Iraq.


FOR YEARS, critics of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law have feared that it would be used as a Trojan horse to discredit public schools and to promote the use of vouchers to pay for private school tuition.

This week, the administration has shown its true colors. President Bush is proposing to offer "Promise Scholarships" to students who have attended a public school that has failed to achieve "adequate yearly progress" for five consecutive years. The scholarships would come in the form of vouchers worth $4,000 that a student could spend on a private school.

Let's put aside the political explosiveness of this proposal. The No Child Left Behind proposal is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. President Bush knows that a Democratic-led Congress is going to embrace his voucher plan with as much enthusiasm as it has his plan to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq.

His willingness to throw the voucher bomb into the middle of an issue that has received considerable heat from both Republicans and Democrats threatens to rip away one of the last remnants of bipartisanship that exists on Capitol Hill.

The impact of Bush's voucher proposal on California could be staggering. If Bush's proposal were to be fully implemented, huge numbers of students in California might end up being eligible for these private school vouchers.

Already, some 2,215 schools in California -- nearly 1 in 4 schools in the state -- have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for two years in a row. "The reality is that under the current construct, NCLB will soon label the vast majority of California public schools as failing," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Wednesday. He accused President Bush of "continuing to pursue an ideological agenda around private school vouchers instead of heeding the clear call of the American people to work on improving our public schools."

We should note that it's not difficult for a school to be placed on the federal government's list of failing schools. For example, the NCLB law requires that 95 percent of students in dozens of sub-groups take the annual proficiency test drawn up by the state. If only one or two students short of the 95 percent benchmark don't take the test, the school is recorded as having failed to make "adequate" progress.

President Bush's "Promise Scholarships" have some promising features. The funds could also be used to pay for extra tutoring or for transportation to a neighboring school where students are getting higher test scores.

But, as a spokesman for Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of the strongest original backers of the legislation and now the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told us Monday, the voucher proposal is "unacceptable." President Bush should withdraw it.

— Editorial
San Francisco Chronicle


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