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NCLB Puts Indiana Schools at Risk
A majority of the schools in Indiana -- representing 270 out of 292 districts -- could be labeled as low performing this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The designation could lead to a migration of students to higher-performing schools, increasing transportation costs and creating overcrowded conditions at some schools. Persistently low-performing schools eventually could be taken over by the state or even closed.
A statewide study of 2001 ISTEP-plus passage rates by the Indiana Urban Schools Association, which represents 34 school districts and questions the value of the federal law, found that most districts and a high percentage of Indiana's 1,882 schools would not meet the law's strict requirements.
The intent of No Child Left Behind is to ensure all children receive a good education by requiring schools to show improvement among low-achieving students -- closing the gap between low-income and affluent students and racial minorities and whites.
Those affected the most will be Indiana's 808 schools that receive federal Title I funding, money given for the past 37 years to help raise achievement among students most at risk of failing and toughest to teach. The law's sanctions apply only to those receiving the funds, but all schools are subject to the labels.
Low-performing schools receiving Title I money must allow students to transfer to better-performing ones and provide private tutoring at no cost to parents.
Schools can be tagged low-performing if Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress scores are low, attendance and graduation rates lag or too few students take ISTEP.
While state law requires schoolwide improvement, the federal law mandates that individual groups meet state targets. Those groups are five racial groups, limited-English learners, and low-income and special education students.
If any one group fails, the school is labeled low-performing. The state targets, based on a federal formula using 2002 ISTEP scores, will be determined soon. But they shouldn't be much different from those used this year to measure Title I schools -- a 51 percent passage rate for English and a 55 percent passage rate for math. The target will be raised every three years until it reaches 100 percent in 2013-14.
But some educators and parents see the law as punishment of schools that need help the most. It's also unrealistic for the federal government to saddle schools with dozens of new requirements without providing enough extra money to get the job done, education officials said.
Some also fear that public schools will be labeled "failing," and there will be a shift for support for vouchers for private schools.
"I've never been in favor of labeling schools in a punitive way," said Lillian Lurye, whose daughter attends an Evansville charter school. "You're not punishing the teachers, you're punishing the children, and everyone loses on that."
"It's like 56 ways to failure," said Duncan Pat Pritchett, the Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent.
In the urban association's study, only 18 of 72 IPS schools would have met the standard this year. They are all elementary schools.
Pritchett also is troubled by inconsistencies between the two laws. A school can be flagged as low-performing under the federal law but still make significant ISTEP gains and be categorized as making "academic progress" under the state law.
Meeting the strict provisions of the federal act worries Suellen K. Reed, the state's superintendent of public instruction. She expects more and more schools will be labeled low performers in coming years.
"But at the same time, it's the right thing to do," she said.
The urban association's study of ISTEP results shows large schools with diverse student populations have to make enormous gains in passage rates to keep from being labeled underperforming. Of the 22 districts with overall rates above the state targets, their average enrollment is only 770, and their average minority enrollment is 1.5 percent. Only nine schools in those districts didn't meet the state targets. One of Indiana's 293 districts was inadvertently left out of the study.
"The way the (federal) law will get implemented will result in punishing all schools in Indiana that have diverse populations," said Joseph McKinney, chairman of Ball State University's Department of Educational Leadership.
More than two-thirds of the 582 urban schools statewide wouldn't have made the cut. In Marion County, only middle and high schools in the Speedway and Beech Grove districts would not have been flagged, along with only 50 of 118 elementary schools.
Nationally this school year, 8,600 Title I-aided schools fell short of their goals. But the numbers differed widely from 1,513 in Michigan to none in Arkansas. In Indiana, 209 of the state's 808 Title I schools in 286 districts were targeted. All schools will be evaluated this year.
The impact of the federal law is already being felt throughout the state, with hundreds of students opting to transfer out of low-performing Title I schools.
In IPS alone, 486 students did so this school year. The state Department of Education won't have statewide data until July, but districts are worried about transportation costs and overcrowding at higher-performing schools.
Last fall, IPS parents Fred and Marshelle Sights transferred their two sons from School 87 -- one of the schools flagged for improvement. School 27 has higher test scores and was among two options offered the family.
Both Ivan, 10, and Joshua, 8, struggle with reading, and Marshelle Sights thinks her children's former teachers weren't concerned enough about the boys' academic progress. She said their new teachers have higher expectations. And she supports giving parents options to switch schools.
"I do not desire to send my children to a failing school," she said.
Under the law, schools that continue to underperform for years face tougher sanctions.
Principals or staff could be replaced. Schools could be converted to charter schools, run by a private management company or taken over by the state. Federal funding to help low-income students could be lost if schools don't comply with reporting and other mandates.
Students also will be tested more often -- annually in Grades 3-8 -- starting in the fall of 2004. Indiana now tests students in Grades 3, 6, 8 and 10.
Schools also have to ensure that teachers in core academic areas are licensed in the specialty areas they teach -- a problem in Indiana primarily in special education, math and science. The classroom aides who assist them must have an associate's degree, two years of college or pass a state-mandated test. Qualified applicants aren't plentiful when the pay is about $8 an hour.
"It definitely has more teeth than past reforms," said Jonathan Plucker, director of the Indiana Education Policy Center at Indiana University in Bloomington. "This may fulfill the promise of educational reform that has left us wanting in the past."
Teachers and principals clearly feel the pressure. Many say they have revised teaching methods.
"We don't want to leave any child behind. We never have," said Karen Temple, 51, an award-winning teacher at 300-student Nashville Elementary School in Brown County for 30 years.
But she said not every child can be on grade level because not all have the same ability levels, backgrounds and home experiences.
"I don't feel like it's threatening to me or will push me out," Temple said. "But there is pressure and more stress."
Despite all the anxiety, reform-minded advocates emphasize the law's tough provisions are needed to make schools show that what they're doing makes a difference.
Last year, the state received $449 million in federal education funding, including $152 million for Title I grants for 286 school districts serving 111,785 children.
"We have invested billions and billions of dollars, and yet the data tells us that gap is persisting," said Thomas A. Lindsley of the National Center of Educational Accountability, a Texas organization working to help states implement the federal law. Lindsley helped craft the law.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether there's enough money for such massive changes.
David Holt, director of education policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, is confident the law will focus more federal resources on low-performing students within the next 10 years and the impact won't be as negative as many anticipate.
"There is so much fear out there right now," said Holt, who worked as chief of staff for an assistant secretary of education under President Bush. "Let's not jump overboard before the ship hits the iceberg. Maybe there isn't an iceberg out there."
Others aren't as confident. The state is wrestling with an $800 billion deficit, and the nation is on the brink of war and record-setting deficits.
"Unless the economy turns around, it leaves schools knowing where the problem is but not being able to address it," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center for Education Policy in Washington, D.C.
Some parents are doubtful -- given the federal government's poor track record of not fully funding special education -- that the money will flow for this law.
While federal spending for No Child Left Behind is authorized at $16 billion, President Bush proposed spending just $11.3 billion for it this fiscal year.
"What you're going to have is schools left behind," said Mary Williams, president of the Indiana PTA. "They'll close. I think there will be some."
More money can help, but schools are going to have to change the way they're organized, said Lynn Weisenbach, dean of the School of Education at the University of Indianapolis. Changes such as year-round schools, more full-day kindergarten to help children learn to read earlier and smaller learning groups are needed, she said.
The federal law is drawing attention to the achievement gap, Weisenbach said. "Whether we're going about this in the right way, only time is going to tell."
Barb Berggoetz and Kim L. Hooper
Many state schools fail new U.S. rules
Feb. 2, 2003
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