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Schools Get Mixed Grades on 'No Child' Law

Ohanian Comment: Calling the Education Commission of the States "nonpartisan" is about as accurate as calling Ronald McDonald a vegetarian. In our new book, Why Is Corporate American Bashing Our Public Schools? Kathy Emery and I call them bedfellows of the Business Roundtable.

WASHINGTON -- As report cards go, it is a spotty mix of promising and abysmal grades. But an independent review praises the states for progress given the scope of their assignment -- putting in place the most sweeping education law in decades.

The Education Commission of the States examined 40 No Child Left Behind categories. Of those categories for Michigan, 11 were rated as appears on track, 28 appear partially on track and one doesn't appear on track.
Some of the highlights for Michigan:

Reading standards/math standards: Both appear partially on track -- state has framework and is revising curricula.

Science standards: Appears on track -- framework in place.

Transfer policy for students in unsafe schools: Appears on track -- policy adopted.

Transfer policy for victims of violent crime: Appears on track -- policy adopted.

Highly qualified teacher in every classroom: Appears partially on track -- state has established a highly qualified teacher definition but no plan to show an annual increase in the percentage of highly qualified teachers at each school.

High-quality professional development: Doesn't appear on track. There was no evidence of a state plan for an annual increase in the number of teachers who are receiving high-quality professional development.
Sources: Education Commission of the States, No Child Left Behind Database: http://nclb2.ecs.org.

Most states have met or are on the way to meeting 75 percent of the major requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, according to the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. That level of compliance has more than doubled over the last year.

Every state and the District of Columbia now have policies to ensure that students with disabilities are included when their schools test reading, math and science.

But not a single state is on pace to fulfill another requirement of the law -- having a measurable way to ensure a highly qualified teacher will be in every core academic class in 2005-06.

Overall, the states are doing well in areas of testing students and measuring yearly progress, but they're struggling with requirements designed to improve the teaching corps.

"The hardest work is yet to come," said Kathy Christie, vice president of the ECS Clearinghouse, the commission's research and information arm. "The toughest thing in all of this is going to be getting better at actually raising student achievement."

David Plank, codirector of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, agreed.

"Most American schools are doing pretty well -- No Child Left Behind is picking that up . . ." The problem, Plank said, is that the schools and kids not meeting the law's expectations "are schools and kids that suffer the most disadvantages on every measure of education opportunity."

Those are poor students, those with special needs or those who have the least qualified teachers, said Plank, who in February coauthored a report with Christopher Dunbar Jr. titled False Start in Michigan: the Early Implementation of the Federal "No Child Left Behind" Act.

"We see some progress on No Child Left Behind, but not where progress is most needed. We do not yet see the kind of serious policy commitment that would be required to turn those schools around," he said.

For instance, he said, under union rules in some districts, the most senior and most qualified teachers choose where they will teach, leaving the least experienced teachers in the schools that need expertise most.

"It's exactly backwards of what ought to happen," he said. ". . . Qualified teachers should be encouraged and rewarded for teaching in the most challenging schools."

The 2001 law requires expanded standardized testing, more information and choices for parents and public reporting of progress for every demographic group so the scores of struggling students aren't masked by school averages. Schools that get federal poverty aid but don't make enough yearly progress get help but also face mounting sanctions.

ECS, a Denver-based group that advises state leaders, graded states on 40 elements of the law, from how well parents get information to how well struggling schools get help.

The determination of whether a state is on track varies by topic. Some changes under the law were supposed to have happened already, while some have deadlines in coming years.

Among the findings:

92 percent are on track to publicly report achievement data for all major groups of students, including minorities, poor people, those with disabilities and those who have limited English skills.

65 percent are on track to set clear, substantial expectations for students to be at their grade level in reading and math no later than 2013-14.

53 percent are on track to identify which schools are in need of improvement before the next school year begins so that parents have time to understand their options.

22 percent are on track to make new and current elementary, middle and secondary teachers of core subjects demonstrate competency in their subjects.
In perspective, Christie said, the effort by the states is encouraging. Not since the 1970s, when the government passed landmark acts to help disabled children and prevent sexual discrimination, have states gotten so active in response to a federal law, the report says.

State progress is also clear in the way the debate is shifting, said Ray Simon, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. School leaders are focusing less on forms and funding and more on getting students up to grade level, he said.

The report's recommendations include redefining how progress is measured so schools can track the success of students over time. ECS says states should get rid of systems that deem veteran teachers highly qualified under standards that aren't rigorous.

The law has become part of the election debate. President George W. Bush made the law his first domestic priority and won overwhelming support for it but has since seen opposition swell. Democratic presidential contender John Kerry voted for the law, but the Massachusetts senator now says Bush has made a mockery of enforcing it and paying for it.

Free Press staff writer Teresa Maskcontributed to this report.

— Ben Feller, Associated Press
Detroit Free Press


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