With a tip of the hat to the Hard Deadlines blog down in Portsmouth for catching something I missed in the papers:
Yesterday’s (March 19) New York Times has a story on a new development in No Child Left Behind.
The Bush administration, acknowledging that the federal No Child Left Behind law is diagnosing too many public schools as failing, said Tuesday that it would relax the law’s provisions for some states, allowing them to distinguish schools with a few problems from those that need major surgery.
The Dept. of Ed’s new initative, which will be available to up to 10 states, is called “Differentiated Accountablity”.
Under the new program, the federal Department of Education will give up to 10 states permission to focus reform efforts on schools that are drastically underperforming and intervene less forcefully in schools that are raising the test scores of most students but struggling with one group, like the disabled, for instance.
Right now, schools that miss 100% of their targets can wind up with the same “in need of improvement” label as schools that miss only 1 target. As I have previously noted, RI’s application of NCLB sometimes ends up condeming a school even when it reaches more than 90% of its targets. Sometimes the targets are simply unrealistic.
The story points out that some critics have attacked the proposal as an attempt to patch up a failing program. NCLB is due for reauthorization this year.
Other critics have called the plan the “the Suburban Schools Relief Act.” Suburban schools, with less minority students and students in poverty are more likely than urban schools to be failing the standards in only one or a few categories. Currently, schools with less than 45 students in a category do not have to report that group’s scores separately.
I confess to being torn about this, but I guess I’m not alone. The NEA supports the change and the AFT opposes it.
I’ve previously expressed my astonishment at the mindless way NCLB turned Nathanael Greene into a non-performing school because, and only because, students with IEP’s, many of them very severe disabilities, did not reach the same level of proficiency on the test as the rest of the kids. Even if giving these kids the exam were reasonable in the first place, responding to their predictably lower scores by simply stamping the negative label on the school creates a false impression about the school as a whole and takes the focus off the group, where it belongs. Moreover, a school with less than 45 such students would pass, even if those students were “failing to meet the standard”, as long as the school average was high enough.
On the other hand, this proposal will likely magically turn suburban schools into “successful” schools, even if gaps increase between advantaged and disadvantaged populations. If that means schools will be freer to ignore those gaps, it strikes me as the wrong approach.