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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Article of Interest - No Child Left Behind

States Get Federal Warning on School Standards
by Diana Jean Schemo, October 23, 2002, New York Times

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The Education Department sent a blistering warning to school commissioners across the country today, calling educators who try to sidestep the intent of President Bush's signature education act, No Child Left Behind, "enemies of equal justice and equal opportunity," and vowing, "they will not succeed."

The letter praised state education commissioners who were trying to carry out the law, which sets ambitious goals for recruiting qualified teachers in the neediest schools and eliminating disparities in achievement among whites, blacks and Hispanics while giving children in chronically failing schools the option of transferring.

But after a month of meetings to discuss the law with some 40 state school chiefs, Education Secretary Rod Paige appeared to draw battle lines. Dr. Paige brushed aside complaints from local officials that Washington had been slow in giving guidance on the law and warned that the administration would strike back at efforts to dilute the law's impact.

"Some states have lowered the bar of expectations to hide the low performance of their schools," the letter said, adding that others were discussing how to "ratchet down their standards" or redefine proficiency to limit the number of failing schools.

"This is not worthy of a great country," Dr. Paige wrote, and he urged school officials to "rethink their approach."

"Those who play semantic games or try to tinker with state numbers to lock out parents and the public stand in the way of progress and reform," the letter said. "They are the enemies of equal justice and equal opportunity. They are apologists for failure. And they will not succeed."

The steps by state educators to revise academic standards in light of the new law were the subject of a recent article in The New York Times. Federal officials said in the article that they would issue such a warning to states, but today's letter still took educators by surprise.

"I guess they're not coming to our Sweet 16 party," said T. J. Bucholz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, which has arguably the strictest standards in the country. Under its criteria, 1,513 schools the most in the nation were deemed "in need of improvement" in July.

Michigan's superintendent of schools, Thomas D. Watkins Jr., said today that he was encouraged by parts of the letter, in which the Education Department agreed not to label "schools in need of improvement" as failing schools. While Mr. Watkins wants to maintain Michigan's tougher standards, he said they would be unworkable when penalties kicked in for 1,513 schools.

Patricia Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said she saw the letter as "a signal that they don't want people gaming the system" delivered, not incidentally, two weeks before Election Day.

But Ms. Sullivan said revisions were inevitable, since states set achievement levels before the law and its raft of penalties existed.

Despite the Education Department's saber rattling, the law gives states wide latitude to set the bar for student achievement where they choose. Today's letter appeared to be an effort by federal officials to wield what they describe as the law's most potent tool: the power of public opprobrium to shame schools into delivering their best efforts.

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