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No Child Left Behind: Is it being left behind?

September 26, 2011 | 11:37 am

No Child Left Behind

On Friday, the Obama administration came out with details about how states could win relief from No Child Left Behind's requirement that all students be proficient by 2014. It was always a silly and wildly unrealistic gimmick, and the forecast is that the vast majority of schools will be labeled as "failing" over the next couple of years.

States would gain a waiver from the 2014 mandate, but only if they followed a long list of new requirements. Some of those requirements make more sense than others. Schools could pick new goals to meet. Two of those are federally drawn, and frankly, they're about as bad as the old goals. They still make "proficiency" the only mark of success, even if schools show big improvements among their lowest-performing students. The third would allow states to draw up their own new goals, which would have to pass a review process.

The U.S. Department of Education would stop treating schools that are missing goals in minor ways as though they are as bad as the utter failures.

However, as it did with "Race to the Top," the Obama administration is using a carrot-and-stick method to push states into doing what it otherwise could not require. Want a waiver?  Better include standardized test scores in those teacher evaluations.

High standards are good, and there isn't anything inherently wrong with making test scores a relatively minor part of a teacher evaluation. But this would indicate a level of federal management of schools that states have resisted. For all its badly written elements -- and No Child Left Behind is riddled with them -- its strong point is that it focuses on results, not on dictating how schools get there.

We don't really have much in the way of evidence that including the test scores will be some sort of magic key to improving education. And the tests themselves will be changing drastically over the next five years, with 40 states having developed core curriculum standards that call for deeper, more meaningful tests. Shouldn't we see how that plays out before we start tying teachers' livelihoods to test scores?

As The Times' editorial board prepares to write about the waiver proposal, as well as Republican-led legislation that has come forth to reform parts of No Child Left Behind, what are your thoughts about what this should look like?


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--Karin Klein

Photo: President Obama smiles as he speaks about the need to provide states with relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind education policy Sept. 23. Credit: Larry Downing / Reuters

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