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NCLB Outrages

Gannett Paper Aligns with NCLB

Ohanian Comment: One thing the Burlington Free Press and the New York Times have in common: the editorial writers love NCLB and dislike teachers. Here, teachers are referred to as some elements in the education community.

These days, some elements in the press community try to show they are even-handed by criticizing Rod Paige's remarks. That aside, they launch into their usual schtick.

Just when the relationship between the Bush administration and the nation's largest teachers union couldn't get any worse, Education Secretary Rod Paige found a way to make it so.

Speaking last week to a group of governors, Paige denounced the National Education Association as a "terrorist organization" because of its steadfast opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act. Paige later apologized for his intemperate remark, but the comment reflected the deep animosity between the administration and some educators over the federal school reform law.

Paige's attack also obscured the administration's recent positive response to complaints about the law made by some educators and state legislators. For example, the Education Department had earlier announced that it would no longer hold non-English speakers and disabled youngsters to the same performance standards as other children. That requirement had led some schools to be labeled as "failures" even though the vast majority of their students met academic expectations.

Paige's NEA comment probably scuttled any likelihood that additional problems with the law could be resolved in the near future.

Instead, education is certain to become an issue in the 2004 presidential race. Although leading Democratic presidential candidates Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry voted for the No Child Left Behind Act and still favor its original philosophy, they say the plan needs some revisions and additional funding.

In its two years in operation, No Child Left Behind has required major adjustments for many schools. By breaking down students according to racial, gender, income and other classifications, the law forces schools to focus more attention on low-performing students, or face federal sanctions.

Previously, schools were often able to ignore weaker students because the school's overall results on standardized tests were good enough to overcome lagging results from the low-scorers, who come disproportionately from low-income and minority families.

Raising the academic skills of those poorly performing students won't be easy or cheap -- if indeed it's possible at all. Doing so also represents a major cultural shift in how some schools operate, forcing them to be more accountable for every student's academic record.

It must be remembered that the standards schools are being held to were set by the individual states, not Congress. The federal government is, in effect, asking Vermont and other states to live up to their own expectations for their students.

No Child Left Behind is imperfect. Adjustments are inevitable in any law so sweeping. The danger is that the schooling of America's children becomes a casualty of the political war between the Bush administration and some elements of the education community.

— editorial
Kids in the Crossfire
Burlington Free Press


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