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All of Minnesota left behind?

Pioneer Press

A report today will estimate that 80 percent to 100 percent of Minnesota's school districts will not meet expectations of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a state official familiar with the report.

The much-anticipated Legislative Auditor's report is also expected to say that by 2014, a significant number of schools will have been listed as under-performing for at least five years. That means they would face numerous penalties, ranging from changes in curriculum to possible state takeover under a proposal last month by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The auditor's report is to be released this morning to the House Education Policy Committee.

In a state that ranks at or near the top on many national student-achievement measures, the report's findings that so many school districts are considered under-performing are sure to be unsettling. They also will add fuel to a smoldering rebellion at the Legislature on the No Child Left Behind Act.

The law passed by Congress two years ago and touted by President Bush calls for yearly testing of students between the third and eighth grades and sets proficiency expectations for schools and school districts. Schools that don't make what the law considers "adequate yearly progress" for three years must provide after-school tutoring and face stiffer penalties if they continue to lag.

The expectations increase through the next decade, so by the 2013-14 school year, all students will be expected to meet state-defined proficiency standards.

Supporters say the increased testing and publicized results will be instrumental in addressing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

But critics complain that the law is too burdensome and that it stigmatizes schools. The Senate Education Committee tentatively passed a bill last week that would pull the state out of the federal education program, a move that would jeopardize $175 million to $240 million annually in federal funds.

The legislative auditor's report will look at several areas, including the fiscal implications of the law for Minnesota and what would happen if the state opted out. Another issue to be explored is how well Minnesota schools will be able to comply with the law's expectations for student achievement.

Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige came to St. Paul to champion No Child Left Behind. Several Republican officials, including Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke, endorsed his proclamations of the law's strengths.

But in another development Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton issued a report criticizing No Child Left Behind based on a series of meetings his staff conducted throughout the state in recent months. The Democrat stopped short of endorsing the opt-out movement, but he said Congress needed to make major changes to the law.

"This is a misguided approach to try to improve public education in the country,'' Dayton said. "The message is to go back to the drawing board.''

John Welsh covers education. He can be reached at jwelsh@pioneer press.com or 651-228-5432.

— John Welsh



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