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NCLB Outrages

Education Law Requires Fixes, Not a Full-Scale Retreat

Ohanian Comment: Read this editorial, the theme of which is repeated frequently in the paper, and then read the list of the USA Today "Education Affiliates." Surprise. Surprise.

The U. S. Department of Education NCLB page
The Princeton Review
Marriott Hotels
Bryant and Stratton College
Aerospace Education Foundation/Air Force Association
Kaufman Foundation
Air Force JROTC

Walk into most any public school, and you're almost sure to find one beef or another about the controversial 2001 federal law that forces schools to raise standards.

For starters, the name — No Child Left Behind — grates on teachers for suggesting that they've devoted their careers to abandoning students. The emphasis on testing aggravates teachers and students who don't want their worth measured by 50 minutes of marking multiple-choice tests. And accountability rules demanding success by all students — including blacks, Latinos and the disabled — raise hackles, along with tough implementation problems. If students in those groups fall behind, a school can be tagged as “failing” in the local media.

Little wonder the law's critics gathered this month in Washington to find ways to fix the flaws they see. But instead of producing alternative ways to achieve the same goals, they came up with ways to water down the law. Their ideas range from de-emphasizing testing to scaling back education aims they consider too ambitious.

The critics are partly right. The law's one-size-fits-all approach causes real problems, even for its avid supporters. For instance, the law lumps into the same group truly failing schools with effective ones that fall short in one area, such as special education.

Such circumstances need fixing — but with a scalpel, not a meat cleaver. The law has achieved far too much to junk.

Without pressure to improve, schools would be given a green light to return to the unacceptable practices that prompted President Bush to push for federal accountability in the first place and back a 42% hike in funds for poor schools since 2002. The law's three essential components are aggressive goals, testing to measure progress and accountability for those who fail. Regardless of their popularity, they need to stay:

•Testing. Yes, standardized testing is imprecise, time-consuming, expensive and invites a cookie-cutter, teaching-to-the-test approach. Still it is the only reliable tool for exposing racial learning gaps. Nationwide, for example, the testing has revealed that African-American high school graduates score at the same level as white eighth-graders. That needs to improve — measurably.

•Accountability. Critics say the law should ensure that each student makes significant progress rather than insist on uniform proficiency for every student. That's logical. For now, though, states lack testing sophisticated enough to ensure that all students are gaining.

•Goals. The law demands that all students be proficient by 2014, though educators agree that won't happen. For the law to be credible, the goal eventually needs to change. But only by substituting other ambitious goals. Some schools have shown they can move quickly. In the past two years, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school district managed to close by half a learning gap between minority and white students.

Subtracting accountability now would only encourage low-performing schools to settle back into their pre-No Child Left Behind rut. In the 1990s, when schools did not face penalties for missing education goals, only a handful of states bothered to meet federal requirements. As a result, racial learning gaps widened. Now, failure to comply can result in sanctions ranging from public shame to allowing students to transfer.

Providing a quality education for every child is a daunting goal, but a vital one. Tough federal rules enforced with common sense offer the best way to achieve it.

— Editorial
USA Today


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