Child Left Behind Leaves No Loopholes
by Normal Lockman, The Delaware News Journal, August 13,
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If little Delaware is in a dither over the impact of the federal
No Child Left Behind law, you can imagine what is about to
happen in the rest of the country.
Delaware is a decade into serious school reforms with high-
stakes accountability for students, teachers and schools. Some
good things are beginning to happen. You can imagine the
consternation then when only two of the state's 19 school
districts managed a "superior" rating, none rated "commendable,"
and all the rest are now under "academic review," which puts
them under the gun for two years.
Of course, there was an immediate caterwauling from school
officials that the federal standards are unfair: another
right-wing conspiracy to destroy the public school system with
vouchers and charter schools. (Never mind that charter schools
are public schools without the usual bureaucratic baggage.) This
is a cry that will ring from coast to coast -- and it is phony.
This collision of new federal standards and local schools is not
really about students. It is about how American schools are run
and who will pay the piper if they are not run well. Up to now,
it has been the kids who paid when schools were run poorly. They
were shuffled along until they had put in enough time and then
schools clapped mortarboards on their heads and declared them
graduates, educated or not. A lot of people -- including parents
-- got to like that. It was no-fault schooling.
No Child Left Behind is grounded in a blinding array of
statistical analyses that rate schools and districts. Don't get
too caught up in them. The main purpose of the law is to break
the easy habit of rating schools by their best students rather
than their worst.
It is important to remember that a large and powerful contingent
of American parents are happy with their children's schools
because those schools are meeting their needs. They are not
anxious to see meddling with a system that benefits their
children on behalf of slacker parents and kids. Educators have
zeroed in on this group as allies to fight the "unfair" reforms.
In truth, there is nothing unfair about a system that stops
school officials from riding the coattails of smarter kids (and
inflating their grades) while writing off the slower ones. And
there is nothing unfair about a system that reveals what has
been called excellent academic performance for years is actually
There was a gasp of horror when only three Delaware high schools
measured up to federal standards. Actually it's a good thing
because it strips the complacency from some smug suburban high
schools that have been preening for those premium parents.
No Child Left Behind is a double whammy. It leaves no shelter
for those who prefer to accentuate the positive while disowning
the negative as something totally beyond their control. No Child
Left Behind says that if the kid makes it to school, the school
is ultimately responsible for that child's proper education no
matter what. That's as it should be.
Codified into law, this is a radical concept. Not all that many
educators truly believe in it. That is why some states are
cravenly lowering standards to protect their school officials
from federal embarrassment. Delaware has refused to take such a
Do not be fooled. It is not unfair to rate schools by their
worst instead of their best. This means more kids will get a
better education and fewer school administrators will be able to
bamboozle themselves and the public that they are doing a fine
job by teaching the easily taught.
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