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NCLB Outrages

So What's Kennedy Up to?

Ohanian Comment: Read clear to the end for the Kennedy quote, which seems rather bizarre.

In the latest of a series of moves designed to respond to complaints about its controversial No Child Left Behind law, the Bush administration yesterday made it easier for teachers to demonstrate they are "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach.

The changes in the 2002 federal education law, announced yesterday, will give teachers in rural schools more time to prove that they are proficient in those subjects and will streamline the process for other teachers to gain the necessary qualifications.

Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige described the changes as "common-sense solutions" to concerns raised by teachers and state legislators, who have complained about the difficulty of implementing No Child Left Behind. But some supporters of the law argued that the Education Department is faltering in its commitment to ensure that every child in America receives a quality education.

"It's a step backwards," said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based think tank that has been a leading advocate of the law. He said that the latest changes appeared "inconsistent" with both the letter and the intent of the law.

Most of the new regulations are aimed at rural schools, which account for about one-third of all U.S. schools. New teachers in those schools will be given an extra three years to show that they are highly qualified, and current teachers will have until March 2007.

Teachers who provide instruction in multiple subjects -- a common practice in elementary and middle schools -- must have a bachelor's degree or equivalent certification in every subject they teach in order to show that they are highly qualified. As originally written, the law requires virtually all school districts to hire only highly qualified teachers, and to ensure that all teachers are highly qualified by the end of the 2005-2006 school year.

Many school districts have had trouble meeting these goals, and some principals have complained that No Child Left Behind is exacerbating an already acute teacher shortage, particularly in rural areas and for subjects such as math and science.

"We listened to educators from across the country, and we learned," Paige told a news conference.

Paige said he is considering more changes in No Child Left Behind regulations, including a provision that schools achieve a 95 percent participation rate in statewide tests to avoid a "needs improvement" label. He has already announced new, more flexible guidelines for the treatment of special-education students and non-native English speakers.

Last year, nearly 30 percent of schools across the country were judged in "need of improvement" under the criteria established by No Child Left Behind, which is designed to make sure that all students perform on grade level by the end of 2014. Before the latest changes, many education analysts expected the number to grow significantly this year, creating a potential election year problem for President Bush, who has promoted education reform as one of his major domestic policy goals.

The Education Department "is responding to political pressure to loosen up the regulations because No Child Left Behind is becoming a political impediment for the president," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank. "They are looking for every nook and cranny that they can change in the law, without changing the law itself."

The political coalition that put together the No Child Left Behind legislation has begun to splinter over the last few months. Yesterday, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the sponsors of No Child Left Behind, accused the Bush administration of granting "a blunderbuss exemption" to the requirement of fully qualified teachers.

— Michael Dobbs
Federal Rules for Teachers Relaxed
Washington Post


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