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NCLB Outrages

About the Maine Bill to Opt Out of NCLB

The author of this editorial is: Frank J. Heller.

Frank J. Heller of Brunswick is owner of Global Village Learning, coordinator of the Maine School Choice Coalition and a policy expert for the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Foundation.

Let's Not Abandon Education Reform

State Sen. Michael Brennan's bill to take Maine out of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act designed to enhance the education of poor children will be heard today at 1 p.m. in Room 214 of the Cross Building in Augusta.

The bill states that 143 schools are listed as "failing" under the federal criteria and that implementing the policies the state agreed to follow in exchange for the large amount of money it received "will divert resources toward administration and testing and away from teaching."

Brennan, a Portland Democrat, and his supporters in the Legislature want to prohibit the Department of Education from "use(ing) any state funds to implement the policies of (No Child Left Behind)," and the bill directs the Department of Education to "investigate the costs and benefits of not participating" in the act.

There is neither a fiscal note - perhaps, the "emergency" status is a loophole to escape a fiscal report - nor is there any consideration for the beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind. Those beneficiaries are Maine's growing population of poor parents and children struggling to get out of the bottom of the public schools.

Indeed, federal performance indicators, which once rated Maine's public schools among the best in the nation, now reveal that not only is Maine being left behind as other schools around the county do better on these tests, but that poor children do worse the longer they remain in Maine's public schools. For example - and this is a damning fact in itself - only 23 percent of poor fourth-graders rate as "proficient" in math; this drops to 16 percent for eighth-graders.

It is a relatively simple task to go to the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ and use its fast report generator to see just how far Maine's students have fallen and how many other states have pulled ahead of Maine. Best of all, it is possible to create reports using eligibility criteria for free or reduced school lunches, which show just how much Maine's public schools have failed to educate our poor children.

I would think that Brennan, certainly no newcomer, wouldn't use a misleading portrait of Maine's public schools to escape its contractual obligations under No Child Left Behind.

All that lawmakers have to do is attend one of the fact-based briefings by Michael Sentance, the regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education, like I did in June in Camden. The slides, graphs and tables reveal just how far Maine has sunk into mediocrity.

If the Democrats are really curious, they should examine the College Board's SAT scores for Maine; by graduation the average scores are below the national average and slowly falling.

Brennan's bill dumps the Legislature's responsibility for evaluating No Child Left Behind and its policy implications onto the back of the very department which must implement it. If there was ever a justification for fully funding the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Ac- countability created by Rep. David Trahan, a Waldoboro Republican, this is it.

It is bad enough that the Maine Department of Education is in violation of the current No Child Left Behind Act. Where are the required lists of support services for parents of kids in those 143 low-performing schools? Where are the school improvement plans for these schools? Where are the parent involvement and parent leadership programs? Heck, where are Learning Results that 'work' for poor kids and teachers who aren't rebelling over them?

But it is even worse to pass or even consider Brennan's bill. This would be a major insult to Maine's poor children and parents, and an abandonment of decade's-old commitments by the Democratic party.

How do I know? I wrote the 1972 education plank for the Democratic Party's convention in Washington, D.C., and worked on the Kennedy administration's war on poverty setting up the first Head Start programs. After all, the biggest booster of No Child Left Behind in Washington, besides President Bush, is Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

— Frank J. Heller
Let's Not Abandon Education Reform
Portland Press Herald


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