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No Child Left Behind is put to the test

Ohanian Comment: Lawmakers from both parties say they'll introduce legislation next year to amend the law before its reauthorization.

Does anyone have any hope they'll make it better?

By Greg Toppo

President Bush's signature education law took a bit of a beating in 2005. The No Child Left Behind law of 2002 saw challenges in federal court and state legislatures.

The law is Bush's effort to improve education by making schools accountable for the progress of all children, including minorities, the poor and the disabled.

The most aggressive attack against it came from an unlikely foe: Republican-voting Utah. In April, state lawmakers there approved legislation that gives schools permission to ignore the law. A showdown over federal vs. local control could come this spring, when schools begin testing students. Under the law, if scores don't steadily improve, school districts must provide free tutoring or busing to better-performing schools.

Also in April, the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, sued in federal court, asking a judge to exempt school districts from any of the law's requirements that aren't paid for by Congress. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the lawsuit last month, but the union says it will appeal. In August, Connecticut's attorney general filed a lawsuit with similar complaints.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings relaxed regulations for many states on testing, teacher quality and other requirements, but observers on both sides say that might make matters worse.

Opponent Gary Orfield of Harvard's Civil Rights Project says the law is "being kept afloat by a bewildering number of patched-together agreements." Supporter Andrew Rotherham of the Virginia State Board of Education says Spellings' concessions have taken the teeth out of the law. "They seem unable to say no," he says.

Education Department spokesman Kevin Sullivan says Spellings has cut deals only with states that prove they're committed to the spirit of the law and to closing achievement gaps between poor and wealthy students. "She's still extremely hawkish on accountability," he says.

Lawmakers from both parties say they'll introduce legislation next year to amend the law before its reauthorization.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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