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States Want More Control Over No Child Left Behind

WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of state legislators wants the Bush administration and Congress to give states sweeping new control over how they rate schools, teachers and students under President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law, saying the law as it stands is a "rigid and inaccurate yardstick" of success.

In a report issued Wednesday, the National Conference of State Legislatures says the law sets unrealistic expectations and defies common-sense notions of how to rate schools.

The report comes as legislatures in several states consider laws limiting the federal government's role in schools.

Education groups welcomed the report, but Ray Simon, the U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said the department would "continue to work with every state to address their concerns and make this law work for their children."

He said the report "could be interpreted as wanting to reverse the progress we've made. ... Children must be challenged to reach their full potential, not told to settle for someone else's lowered expectations. No Child Left Behind is bringing new hope and new opportunity to families throughout America, and we will not reverse course."

The report's authors say they are merely proposing needed flexibility and say educators and parents nationwide have found the law's principle of "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, unworkable.

"We are not a lone voice in the wilderness here," says New York State Sen. Steve Saland, a Republican.

Saland and others say states should be allowed to rate schools by how much students learn over the course of a year rather than by whether one class, for instance, fifth-graders, surpasses last year's.

This week, lawmakers in Utah are expected to debate a bill that would give state officials greater control over how they judge schools under the law, in effect allowing them to ignore federal requirements if state money is used to comply with the law.

In Congress, though, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized groups that want it "both ways."

"They want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it," Boehner said in a statement. "This should not be acceptable to anyone."

The Utah bill passed unanimously in the state's House of Representatives. Utah Rep. Kory Holdaway, a special-education teacher and Republican member of the National Conference of State Legislature's task force on No Child Left Behind, says the measure is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by Utah's Republican governor.

"I think it's got pretty broad support. I haven't heard anybody against it."

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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