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NCLB Outrages

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will bypass U.S. Congress to make changes to No Child Left Behind law; Yes, I'm suspicious

by Kelly Flynn | The Flint Journal

Sneaky? Desperate? Calculating? I'm struggling for words to describe the most recent move by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who announced that she will bypass Congress and instead use her executive powers to make changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

OK, I'm suspicious. I mean, why such an imperious move with only eight months left in this administration? And why these particular changes?

Let's face it. We have good reason to be suspicious. Don't forget that the Department of Education (DOE) has proven twice in this administration that it has ulterior motives and is not above deceit.

In 2005 the DOE violated a ban on covert propaganda and paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote NCLB. In 2006 a scandal in the Reading First program resulted in an investigation. The inspector general discovered 51 pages worth of inappropriate behavior and conflicts of interest by federal officials with ties to publishers.

One of Spellings' changes would require states to use a single federal formula to calculate and report high school graduation rates. And that makes sense. If we're going to measure it, let's use one formula.

But then what? Why doesn't the U.S. Department of Education provide money for large-scale drop-out prevention programs?

Spellings also will mandate that districts notify parents two weeks before the start of school of their right to transfer out of failing schools. In addition, she wants school officials to more thoroughly explain students' rights to federally funded tutoring and require states to inform the public about what tutoring providers are available.

Now that's predictable. Since NCLB's inception, the largely unregulated tutoring industry has giggled all the way to the bank. Stronger tutoring language for NCLB can only mean more dollar signs for them.

Schools considered to be "failing" are typically urban, and typically serve a population that does not consider education to be a priority. In most cases, if students don't try the first time around, they're not likely to pursue free tutoring.

And that's the crux of the problem. Some people just flat-out don't care all that much about education. The drop-out rate and lack of interest in free tutoring prove that.

So any changes to NCLB, either through Congress or around it, should first and foremost address the non-learner. How can we make parents and kids care about learning when they come from a culture that doesn't?

As changes go, these are kind of puny. That's puzzling, too. Why rile the wrath of Congress over such inconsequential changes?

Sadly, the fact that Spellings plans to go around Congress doesn't mean much to education's bottom line.

After all, 1,000 pages of NCLB is proof positive that Congress is too uninformed about education to make sensible decisions anyway.

Kelly Flynn is a columnist for The Flint Journal writing about education and related topics. She's also the author of "Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill" due for release in July, 2008.

— Kelly Flynn
The Flint Journal


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