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Analysis: Failure to Comply with Federal Mandates May Cost Some Schools Millions of Dollars in Funding

Ohanian Comment:They call this analysis, but what we get here are unexamined soundbites. And to think I paid for this transcript.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of classroom)

Unidentified Woman: Good morning. Welcome. Whose classroom?

Unidentified Student: Matway(ph).

Unidentified Woman: Matway. OK, Matway's class, you want to go that way, turn right and he's the last class...

INSKEEP: There's the familiar sound of kids finding their new classrooms on the first day of school. What students learn this year could have a big effect on their lives. And government measurements of their learning could have a big effect on their schools. The federal No Child Left Behind Act has been in effect for two years. Public schools have had to change the way they record and report students' academic progress. The money they get from Washington is now tied to dozens of new federal mandates from testing to teacher credentials to school safety. States have moved quickly to comply, but as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, the government's list of struggling schools continues to grow.


In the months leading up to the full implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, the US Education Department knew there were at least 8,600 public schools across the country with a history of low academic performance, some dating back to the mid-1990s. The government has since added 4,300 more schools to that list and this fall the number's likely to climb because 20 states have yet to disclose how many of their schools have failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Texas, for example, is likely to lose $7 million in federal aid because the state missed the deadline for telling parents how their schools were performing under the new law. If these problems keep mounting, some researchers say, it won't be because schools aren't improving but because they're not complying with the letter of the law. Take testing for example. Many schools' test scores are just fine, even great. And still they don't meet AYP.

Ms. KATHY CHRISTIE (Education Commission of the States): Many schools didn't make AYP the first year because they didn't test 95 percent of their kids. And that's an easy fix.

SANCHEZ: Kathy Christie is with the Education Commission of the States, a bipartisan group that's been monitoring states' compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act. For a school to make adequate yearly progress, it must meet 40 new requirements: testing at least 95 percent of its students in reading and math, reporting students' test scores by race, ethnicity, income, disability and making sure parents know how the school is doing. Schools that fall short of one or more requirements are sanctioned and that, says Christie, can make the situation even in good school systems look bleak.

Ms. CHRISTIE: What you don't want to have happen is for schools that really are improving to get caught in something that isn't really reflecting their true status, so if the numbers get too big, then I'm afraid people are going to discount this altogether.

SANCHEZ: The Bush administration, meanwhile, has been roundly criticized for pushing so many new mandates and deadlines so soon, eliciting this response from US Education Secretary Rod Paige at the Republican National Convention last week.

(Soundbite of Republican National Convention)

Secretary ROD PAIGE (Education Department): All across America test scores are rising, students are learning, the achievement gap is closing, teachers and principals are beaming with pride. Ladies and gentlemen, No Child Left Behind is working and we are not going back.

SANCHEZ: Still, with most states struggling to comply with the law and millions of children still stuck in low-performing schools, it will be up to parents like Pamela Washington(ph) in Baltimore to seek out the best schools and pray that there's room for their children. This fall, Washington was lucky. She was able to transfer her eight-year-old son, Marcel(ph), from a school that had not improved in years to a better school that's making progress.

Ms. PAMELA WASHINGTON: This law has actually helped, in a way, for the kids that feel like there is no place for them. And they feel like, academically, they can't compete with the other kids. And it actually will build up their confidence.

SANCHEZ: That's what needs to happen everywhere, says Kathy Christie. But it's going to take time. According to the Education Commission of the States, only five states--Kentucky, Connecticut, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania--are or soon will be in full compliance with the law. Nearly half the states, though, still can't or won't collect all the data they need to identify which schools need improvement. And only 10 states are even remotely close to meeting one of the law's crucial goals, providing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. Again, Kathy Christie.

Ms. CHRISTIE: This is such an important area that, if teachers are not at the level that they need to be, then that second part of really moving student achievement forward is just not going to be possible.

SANCHEZ: Christie says most states have submitted plans to improve the quality of teachers, but the US Education Department has not made them public. Some state officials speculate that if their plans are rejected, it won't be until after the November elections to minimize the political fallout.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Washington.

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— Claudio Sanchez
Morning Edition, National Public Radio


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