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NCLB Outrages

Fewer Schools Falling Short on "No Child Left Behind"

Ohanian Comment: It is interesting that these exceptions were made in an election at that the great firestorm of failing schools is delayed. Not prevented, just delayed.

The number of U.S. schools "in need of improvement" under President Bush's education law is smaller than forecast, but experts question whether that means the children got smarter or the rules got easier.

The No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, demanded that all schools show "adequate yearly progress." Scores on state tests must gradually improve until 2014, when all students in grades three through eight and one grade in high school must read and do math proficiently. Schools also must show progress for poor, disabled and minority students.

Many observers predicted that as standards rose, the number of flagged schools would rise to 50%. But this fall, as states report scores, the number of schools "in need of improvement" is actually shrinking in many states.

Nationwide last year, 32% of public schools made the list, which triggers requirements to offer free tutoring or transportation to another public school. Some schools might even be restaffed or shuttered.

In his speech last week at the Republican National Convention, Education Secretary Rod Paige said results show that "No Child Left Behind is working. All across America, test scores are rising."

But some officials say credit for the dropping number of schools "in need of improvement" doesn't just go to rising achievement. Other factors include a focus on test-taking skills, new regulations that allow schools to exempt more students' scores, and more students taking required tests. Some schools were deemed inadequate because not enough students took exams.

"This is not really a result of an increase in student performance,"
says Scott Young of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is compiling the state totals.

In many states, school districts took advantage of changes last spring that allowed them to exempt the test scores of more disabled students and those with limited English skills.

"We appreciated the flexibility," says Tom Watkins, Michigan's Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But where some see flexibility, others see political maneuvering.

Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington advocacy group, and others note that the changes coincide with the presidential race.

Bush administration officials deny that election considerations softened the rules.

"From Day One we have been in a position where if you show too much flexibility you're watering down the law (and) if you don't show too much flexibility it's 'one-size-fits-all,' " Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok says. "The bottom line is, kids are learning. We think it's very good news."

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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