February 14, 2005
Everybody hates No Child Left Behind
NY Times headline: "New US Secretary Showing Flexibility on 'No Child' Act"
"Oh alright, I guess it's OK if we leave some children behind. Especially those poor, stupid ones."
OK, really what the headline refers to is some policy elements of NCLB that the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling, is realizing are totally unworkable. For example, 4,000 veteran North Dakota elementary teachers were declared unqualified through NCLB standards, and after they protested, Secretary Spelling said they were qualified after all. She also agreed to ignore the part of the act stating that students in low-performing schools can transfer to better ones in the case of New York City, where this is physically impossible due to overcrowding. Of course, this prevents NYC students from taking part in what was supposed to be a major benefit of NCLB for families who can't afford private school. For now, the concerns of overcrowded high-quality public schools have won out.
Back to the article: "Ms. Spellings said that she intended to balance states' rights to control schools with the federal government's responsibility to reduce the achievement gap between suburban white and urban minority students. 'That's the most important thing I'm going to do, to thread the needle of that balance,' she said. The president, she said, wants her to 'get with the states and the Congress and work the problem.'"
"Thread the needle of that balance"? What does that mean? Maybe the Secretary was reduced to nonsensical metaphors because the issues of class and race in public education are far too complicated to be solved by obsessively testing middle schoolers.
Interestingly, it's the state that voted the most for Bush last year, Utah, that's especially unhappy with NCLB. Maybe that's because many traditional Republicans value local government more than seemingly ineffective federal programs, and they're not too keen on the burdensome requirements that NCLB has placed on public education, which is supposedly a state-operated service. So they're trying to pass a law for state governance of public education.
"Top educators are all demanding more freedom from the federal law's dictates. The legislature is considering a bill that would require Utah's superintendent of public instruction to give state educational goals priority over the federal law. The superintendent, Patti Harrington, urged lawmakers to pass it and predicted in an interview that they would. 'We don't have much regard for No Child Left Behind in Utah,' Ms. Harrington said. 'For rigor, yes, for achievement, yes, but this law just gets in our way.' She called the law's accountability system 'convoluted,' its method for defining highly-qualified teachers 'faulty,' and its requirement that disabled children be tested at their grade level rather than at their ability level 'ludicrous.'"
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