Top N.Y. City Official Says Schools are Hurt by NCLB
Just over two years have passed since the federal No Child Left Behind Act became law with bipartisan support for its goal of stronger accountability for school districts. Now the support is vanishing. Legislatures in several states are taking action against the law, some even refusing to comply.
But while protests are raised elsewhere, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has remained conspicuously silent. He blandly supports the principle of accountability. But he has to know that if the law works as it's supposed to, it will undermine his reforms.
Before the law was enacted, New York State already was experimenting with an accountability system based on high-stakes testing. The result has been thousands of students pushed out of city high schools since 1997.
Klein has acknowledged this scandal and pledged to put an end to pushouts. But there is little doubt, now that the city is threatened with the loss of millions in federal funding if test scores do not improve, that administrators will be under even more pressure to make struggling students disappear.
There is also little doubt that New York will be forced to follow the leads of Texas, Michigan and Colorado and water down its standardized test. Klein has vowed to end social promotion, but lowering standards is social promotion in a dishonest form.
Under the federal law, if a school fails to adequately boost its scores, students can transfer out. That may work in small districts, but a key cause of failing city schools is overcrowding. Closing bad ones and letting students transfer en masse will only make the overcrowding worse. The only reason the policy has not already led to chaos is that so few students take advantage of the transfer option.
One of the federal law's stated goals is to put a qualified teacher in every classroom. But Klein may find it hard to recruit motivated teachers while supporting a law that bases accountability solely on standardized tests. Testing doesn't measure the more sophisticated levels of critical thinking, creativity, communication skills or hard work - qualities that teachers know are crucial to students' success.
Klein and Mayor Bloomberg must call on President Bush and congressional leaders to replace the No Child Left Behind Act with sensible accountability based not only on standardized tests but also grades, attendance records and a school's graduation rates. Anything less would be a betrayal of the education reform they have promised.
Gotbaum is the city's public advocate.
Betsy Gotbaum, New York City Public Advocate
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New York Daily News
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES