EDITORIAL: No child left

As the state and local school districts once again report results of annual testing required by the federal government, it's clear that any real progress -- or failings -- in our schools are obscured by flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind law. What's wrong with it? 

So many things that No Child Left Behind should be overhauled or scrapped. 

To be judged as having made "adequate yearly progress" under the federal law, a school must meet targets in more than 30 categories. Students in each of six ethnic groups, for instance, have to meet standards in both language arts and math. The same is true for students from low income families, students with disabilities, and students who speak limited English. 

Schools that don't make adequate yearly progress must jump through certain hoops. They must produce a school improvement plan. In low income neighborhoods, if a school doesn't meet the targets three years in a row, the district must offer to bus students to another school.  

Some of the flaws in NCLB: 

• It judges whole schools to be inadequate if they fail to meet just one of the 30-plus standards. If, for example, not enough students with disabilities reached math proficiency levels, but every other group did, then the whole school is tarred with having made inadequate yearly progress. That's what happened at Tyson Elementary in Mountain View this year.  

Anchorage Superintendent Carol Comeau said that this way of judging schools is her biggest objection to the federal law. 

It is ironic that a school like Tyson, which has a lot of successes to its credit, would be deemed inadequate. Most Tyson students are from low income families and are minorities, two groups that tend to score lower than average; yet all student groups hit performance targets except for one group in one subject.  

• NCLB compares how one year's third-graders do with the third-graders from the year before (the same is true of all grades). That comparison is not necessarily bad, but may say more about demographic changes among students in a school than about the quality of the school's education. What's really important is not the year-to-year change in third grade scores; it's knowing whether each year's third-graders learn what they need before moving up to fourth grade. 

• No Child Left Behind does not help compare students on a national basis. Under NCLB, each state sets up its own tests, so districts and states can't learn how they measure up to the rest of the country or internationally.  

• The school performance targets set in the federal law are literally impossible to meet. By 2014, a school is supposed to ensure that all students in all demographic subcategories are proficient in math and language. All schools except the most elite will fall short and be judged "inadequate" under the law.  

Alaska's two U.S. senators have both criticized No Child Left Behind. In his campaign literature, Sen. Mark Begich characterized the law as a disaster in Alaska. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski in July introduced a major reform measure. Under her bill, schools would be given credit if students are improving but haven't yet reached the state's proficiency goals. States would determine a school's success based on how much progress individual students are making. Sen. Murkowski's changes would improve the law. No Child Left Behind does have some value. It focused districts' attention on making sure special education students, minorities, low income students, and students who speak limited English have an opportunity to reach the highest levels of academic achievement. 

Alaska education commissioner Larry LeDoux said he will be forever thankful that No Child Left Behind spurred an effort to improve performance of those who had, indeed, been left behind. But he thinks the federal law is too inflexible, and has caused schools to spend so much energy and money on remediation that many have cut back on other ingredients of a successful school such as music, vocational education and humanities. Those are subjects that engage students and keep them in school, he said. 

LeDoux supports the changes Sen. Murkowski proposes. 

It's clear the No Child Left Behind law is so flawed and at the same time so dominating that it precludes a broader and better approach to education. 

BOTTOM LINE: It's time to leave behind the No Child Left Behind law.

By:  Originally published by the Anchorage Daily News on August 07, 2009
Source: Problems in the federal law distract from real improvement