Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Back to School

"No Child Left Behind" in Spotlight As School Year Begins

Next week, students and teachers all over the state will be heading back to their schools as another school year gets underway. Many of those students and teachers will be teaching and learning in one of the 145 schools identified as not making enough progress under the federal No Child Left Behind act. Here is a list of the "problem" schools which have not made

Meanwhile, the state's lawsuit against the act, which contends that it is an "unfunded mandate," is proceeding apace and gathering quite a lot of criticism. The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford.

"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states. Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education," said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do -- with no new money to do them."
"Unfortunately, this lawsuit sends the wrong message to students, educators and parents," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "The funds have been provided for testing, but Connecticut apparently wants to keep those funds without using them as intended." (Gillespie)

What the Department of Education isn't mentioning is that the funds provided fall far short of what's needed to actually run the tests. Typically for the federal government, however, the Department of Education would far rather bash Connecticut for challenging the law than actually try to fix the problem.

Yesterday, civil rights groups got involved with the case, saying that:

"We believe poor children will suffer if the state of Connecticut wins" its lawsuit, said Brittain, who for years was a central figure in the Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case that sought to improve racial balance in Hartford's public schools.

"No Child Left Behind keeps the accountability on the states, where it belongs," said Brittain, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. (Frahm)

Essentially, the argument is being made that NCLB is helping poor and minority students to close the achievement gap between rich and poor districts, and that lawsuits against the act hurt this effort.

In response, Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg, who has led the fight against NCLB in Connecticut, has called for a task force to study and make recommendations for reforming high schools in order to close that gap:

"Overall, the rate of change in all towns over those years is not stellar, by any means," she said. "This suggests that we need to work with a sense of urgency to change fundamentally what is going on in our high schools across the state."

She said the answer is not more testing, as required in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state on Monday became the first in the nation to sue over requirements that schools tests students every year in grades three through eight. (AP)

So the school year is beginning with a shouting match. Wonderful. Commissioner Sternberg is quite correct that more standardized tests are not the answer, but a "task force" sounds like a weak alternative. I have my doubts that real reform will ever happen.

The problem is that we can tinker endlessly with schools, teachers and tests without ever seeing real results. All the sanctions and task forces in the world won't help a bit if half the class doesn't show up, if discipline is nonexistent, if home life is chaotic and students don't believe that education is worth anything to them.

Half the problems stem from poor administration, hard-to-fire teachers, run-down buildings and falling standards. But half the problems can't be solved by even the best schools, or the most well-intentioned legislation.


"Commissioner calls for erasing high school achievement gap." Associated Press 23 August, 2005.

Gillespie, Noreen. "Conn. Challenges No Child Left Behind Law." Hartford Courant 23 August, 2005.

Frahm, Robert A. "No Child Lawsuit Disputed." Hartford Courant 23 August, 2005.

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