Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Fixing 'No Child Left Behind'

NYT editorialized The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law three years ago, marked a recognition by Congress that things had to change. The key provisions of the law are aimed at the current system's weakest points: it requires the states to improve teachers' training and to erase the achievement gap between white and minority students in exchange for federal dollars.

Improving teacher's training is only a side benefit. The important thing is that states need to prove they are doing a better job in order to get federal funding.

But the reform effort will collapse if the Bush administration gives in to the state governments that are invoking the principle of states' rights and embracing the bad old status quo.

If a state wants to control things itself, that is fine, but then it should get NO federal dollars

Local school systems have plenty of good reasons for impatience with No Child Left Behind - particularly on the critical issue of money. The government's failure to fully finance the law has made it harder for cash-strapped states to comply, and provided a ready excuse for critics who don't believe in the principle of equal education in the first place.

There should not be full financing until the states demonstrate that they are fully doing their jobs and are improving the education the children are receiving. The past 40 years, under the Democrats, funding has gone up and up, as results went down and down. The schools must teach children better if they want more money. And if they do teach them better, they should find that local, state, and federal dollars will appear to help them teach even better.

In addition, districts that were already trying hard to provide excellent education to every student are understandably dismayed at having to navigate confusing federal laws that need to be made clearer. And slipshod administration from Washington during the inept administration of Rod Paige when he was the education secretary added another layer of bad feeling.

Attacking someone that is no longer there does no good.

It was inevitable that a law this ambitious, dealing with an issue as close to home as public schools, would have a rough start. When it comes up for reauthorization, there will undoubtedly be refinements in the formula that determines whether schools are making "adequate yearly progress" - particularly when it comes to special education students and children who are learning English as a second language. Advocates must mobilize all their resources to fight for better financing.

And Congress should resist any such demands for better financing, until the schools demonstrate that they are using the money they have more wisely, and are doing a better job of teaching the children.

And the Education Department, under its new secretary, Margaret Spellings, has to listen closely to the needs of well-intentioned communities that support the goals of the law but are finding it difficult to penetrate the bureaucracy that has grown up around it.

But the core part of the law, which requires the states to close the achievement gap between white and minority students, must remain sacrosanct, and the Bush administration must stand firm against the districts that simply don't want to make the effort.

The law is No Child Left Behind, not No Minority Child Left Behind

That is the kind of challenge looming from the State of Utah, which is leading a rebellion against the basic principles of No Child Left Behind. Utah wants to dump the law's accountability system in favor of the state's own system, which is one of the weakest in the country. The Utah system as a whole does not collect student data based on race and ethnicity, something that is required by federal law and is crucial for determining whether state schools are closing the achievement gap.

Race and ethnicity should not be a factor. The law is No Child Left Behind, not No Minority Child Left Behind

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