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NCLB Outrages

Really Leaving No Child Behind

Ohanian Comment: As always, NY Times editorials on education are likely to be harmful to your health. Proceed with caution. In response to my protest to the Times editorial board about past editorials on NCLB, I received the reply that some of the board members' best friends are teachers and the board knows what it is talking about.

I think editorial writer Brent Staples should start reading Times columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert.


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 set ambitious new goals when it required the states to improve public schooling for all students — and to educate poor children up to the same standards as their affluent counterparts — in exchange for federal aid. The country still has a long way to go to reach those goals. And they will never be met if Congress, which must now reauthorize the law, backs away from provisions that hold schools accountable for how well and how much children learn.

The country’s largest teachers’ union, the politically powerful National Education Association, would like to see the law gutted. Fortunately, the chairman of the House education committee, George Miller, Democrat of California, has resisted those pressures. Even so, his proposed changes in the law’s crucial accountability provisions, put forth in a draft version of the House bill, may need to be recast to prevent states from backing away from the central mission of the law.

Some critics warn that one provision might allow schools to mask failures in bedrock subjects like reading and math by giving them credit for student performance in other subjects or on so-called alternate indicators. The proposed formulas are confusing, and the idea should not become a route to evasion.

But the draft contains several good ideas.

One of the most needed changes would close a huge loophole in the current Federal Title I program, which is supposed to give federal aid for the specific purpose of providing extra help to disadvantaged children, extra help that is crucial for closing the achievement gap. Congress’s original idea for Title I was to give the money to states and localities only after they had provided their schools with high poverty rates with funding levels comparable to other schools in the system. In practice, many states have continued to shortchange those high poverty schools while using Title I money to make up the difference. That needs to stop.

The draft also seeks to end the shameful but all-too-common practice of dumping inexperienced and unqualified teachers into the neediest schools.

Under the new legislation, states would be required to equitably distribute qualified teachers throughout the school system. Another important provision would require the states to create far-reaching data banks that would allow administrators to track both student and teacher performance over time, judging teachers based on how much their students actually learn.

The draft also puts meaningful targets in place for improving graduation rates. But it might allow the states too much discretion in choosing how to report them — a bad idea given the well known tendency of the states to inflate graduation rates. Another worrisome provision would allow the schools to test English language learners in their native languages for as long as seven years, as opposed to the current three. A student who entered the country in say, third grade, might actually get all the way to 10th grade before being tested in English.

If all of the nation’s children are to get the education they deserve, Congress needs to strengthen the No Child Left Behind law. Mr. Miller’s draft contains some important reforms that deserve to become law, but much of that good will be undermined if states, schools and teachers are not held accountable for the quality of education they provide.

— Editorial
New York Times


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