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Education chief backs 'No Child Left Behind'

Pioneer Press

The nation's top education official used his visit to a St. Paul school Wednesday to defend the federal No Child Left Behind law and dismiss attempts by some states to avoid the law's requirements.

Though grousing about No Child Left Behind has become the sport of choice among educators and politicians, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said opponents of the 2-year-old federal education law are overreacting. But he said the Bush Administration is interested granting states more flexibility on how the law is implemented.

"I want to find every ounce of flexibility that is there and make it available,'' Paige said during a news conference at Sheridan Elementary. "Once it's clear that we will be as flexible as the law permits, everyone will understand that this is the best thing for children. In the final analysis, I think there will be very little of this opting out business.''

But opting out of the law is just what the Minnesota Senate Education Committee chose to do in a preliminary vote taken Tuesday. Today, the same committee follows the lead of several other states in considering a nonbinding resolution protesting the law.

Republican officials touring the school with Paige dismissed such actions, even though some of the criticism is coming from members of their party.

"That's just foolish,'' said U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

"We are not going to opt out of No Child Left Behind. Period. Paragraph,'' Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. "We aren't going backward. We are going forward.''

During his stop at Sheridan, Paige a former Houston, Texas, superintendent visited several classrooms and held a panel discussion with a group of St. Paul principals. At one point, the governor asked the principals their opinion of No Child Left Behind, which has resulted in 13 St. Paul schools being listed as under-performing. The St. Paul school leaders were polite hosts, but did offer some criticism.

Como Park Elementary Principal Nancy Stachel said she was worried that the law's accountability program does not consider "value-added" measures that look at how much a student has gained. The state's accountability program is gradually moving in that direction over the next several years as more testing goes online. But the federal program considers only the performance of a given year say, this year's third-graders versus last year's third graders.

Harding High School Principal Deb Henton said her school faces many challenges and depends significantly on special state funding for schools with high numbers of students from low-income families.

"What No Child Left Behind does for us is, it pushes us to look more at the individuals,'' she said. "I think it could use a little tweaking, but I think it will make us better educators.''

John Welsh can be reached at jwelsh@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5432.

Education chief backs 'No Child Left Behind'



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