Failing Grade for "No Child"

Bush Administration eases off pass-fail system for public schools

Four years after enactment of its hallmark education reform, the Bush administration appears to be heading off calls for changes in the law by agreeing not to enforce key provisions of No Child Left Behind. Schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" on academic performance under the law to escape the "failing" label can show progress by other means. Some urban districts can offer students in failing schools tutoring instead of a transfer to a better school. States previously under pressure to show that their teachers met certain minimum standards can now show that they made "good faith efforts" toward hiring qualified educators. Testing requirements for disabled students will be eased.

The analysis in today's Washington Post--which fields a crack educating reporting team--is clear, if not terribly pointed:

The Education Department's actions could signal a new phase for school improvement efforts nearly four years after the law's enactment. Taken together, these actions amount to a major response to critics who have called No Child Left Behind rigid and unworkable. They also help the administration combat efforts to amend the law in Congress.

Is it possible that movements to institutionalize charter schools and voichers have succeeded to the point where the law, long and credibly criticized as an assault on public education, is irrelevant? Think about it: State politicians are starting to feel the heat over the absolute lack of anything resembling instruction that's going on in many classrooms; it is starting to look very much even to those so-called terror moms like Bush is wrong, the problem isn't a lack of will, it's a lack of money.

If you have a child in a Twin Cities school, you know what I mean. Parents and teachers are frantic this year; yesterday, the Strib explained the numbers behind what we know anecdotally to be true:

At South, across Minneapolis and into the suburbs, high schools have been fighting a losing battle against bigger class sizes. It's a particularly sensitive subject in Minneapolis, where as recently as 2000 voters approved tax increases to keep class sizes down, only to watch them edge up in recent years because of higher expenses and tighter state funding.

This year the erosion in Minneapolis elementary classes is one to two students on average, but high school classes are jumping, with math classes up by an average of nine students citywide.

"We seem to have reached a tipping point in terms of parent concern," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. "This fall it seems like there's almost a spontaneous grass-roots reaction among parents."

If the tough-love rhetoric fueling No Child was anything more than ideological bluster, would Bush et. al. really be backing away from enforcing the rules at its core?

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