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NCLB Outrages

Education Secretary Offers Changes to ‘No Child’ Law

Fair Test Response to Spellings speech:

FairTest - National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information contact:
Jesse Mermell/Monty Neill (617) 864-4810 or Robert Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

for immediate release, Tuesday, April 22, 2008 after Sec. Spellingsâ Detroit speech




Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings should mark the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk by seeking an overhaul of the âNo Child Left Behindâ (NCLB) law, which stemmed from the reportâs misdiagnosis of educational problems. Instead, the administrative changes she proposed today fail to address the deep flaws in NCLB, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

"A Nation at Risk launched the countryâs high-stakes testing movement," explained FairTest Executive Director Jesse Mermell. "The resulting test-and-punish policies have not led to significant improvements in the quality of public education. Thatâs particularly true for the minority, low-income, disabled and immigrant students society has left behind."

"The major problem in U.S. schools was not the 'rising tide of mediocrity' blamed by A Nation at Risk," added FairTest Deputy Director Dr. Monty Neill. "Then and now a yawning gap in educational opportunity dragged down academic achievement."

"National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data demonstrate the failure of NCLB, the latest phase of the over-testing trend," Dr. Neill continued. "Since it became law, progress has slowed or stopped entirely in both reading and math. That's because repetitive drilling for tests undermines high-quality learning."

"Itâs time for a different approach," FairTestâs Mermell concluded. "Government must mandate fewer standardized tests. Instead, we should help teachers use high-quality assessment tools to diagnose student needs and improve learning. Schools need better support, not counter-productive sanctions."

The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), chaired by FairTest, has offered detailed recommendations for overhauling NCLB. FEA's proposals are based on the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by more than 140 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, civic and labor groups.

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Proposals for overhauling NCLB are online at http://www.fairtest.org and http://www.edaccountability.org

Here are the Spellings remarks.

By Sam Dillon

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings used her executive powers on Tuesday to propose a series of ninth-inning regulatory fixes to President Bushâs signature education law, No Child Left Behind, including requiring states to use a single federal formula to calculate and report high school graduation rates.

Ms. Spellings also wants to require schools to notify parents of their right to transfer students out of failing schools two weeks before the start of each school year, and to explain more fully to parents the opportunities for federally financed tutoring that are available to students attending troubled schools.

Ms. Spellings said she was proposing the fixes because efforts in Congress to rewrite the legislation have stalled and because âeverywhere I go I meet parents who are demanding change.â

âWhile I will continue working with legislators to renew this law, I also realize that students and families and teachers and schools need help now,â she said Tuesday in a speech in Detroit. âSo at the presidentâs request, Iâm moving forward.â

The Democratic chairmen of the Congressional education committees, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative George Miller of California, expressed tepid support for some of the proposed changes, although Mr. Miller called several of them âunhelpful.â

A Democratic aide on Mr. Millerâs committee said they included new rules related to a federally financed after-school tutoring program, a hotly debated topic when Congress sought to rewrite the law last year.

Ms. Spellings will issue final regulations in November, and they will take effect one month later, the department said.

The No Child law requires states and high schools to report their graduation rates to the federal government, but allows them to set their own formulas for calculating them. As a result, states have adopted an array of contrasting formulas, most of which understate the number of dropouts, and official graduation rates are not comparable from state to state.

Ms. Spellingsâs proposed regulations would require states to calculate their graduation rates in a uniform way by the 2012-13 school year, using a formula that in 2005 all 50 governors agreed to adopt. In the years since, only a dozen or so states have done so.

Under the formula, graduation rates are calculated by dividing the number of students who receive a traditional high school diploma in any given year by the number of first-time ninth graders who entered four years earlier, adjusted for students who transfer in and out.

Some education experts and lobbyists said the proposed regulations were so sweeping that they amounted to an effort by Ms. Spellings to amend the law through regulation.

âThis is the boldest sidestep around the Congress that Iâve ever seen,â said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators. âSheâs trying to rewrite the law without benefit of Congressional action. Iâd be surprised if lawmakers let this go.â

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at Berkeley, said the graduation rate proposal and others amounted to âan imperious new set of mandates,â while others seemed aimed at giving states the flexibility they have demanded in enacting the law. âThe Bush administration is like an ambivalent big sister who doesnât know whether to scold or to nurture her younger siblings,â Dr. Fuller said.

Mr. Kennedy said the proposals âinclude important improvements for implementing No Child Left Behind, even as Congress considers further reforms to the law.â

Mr. Miller called Ms. Spellingsâs proposals âa series of piecemeal changes to a law that really needs a comprehensive overhaul.â

— Sam Dillon
New York Times


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