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Bush Education Policy Called 'Uneven'
Compromises sometimes benefit richer districts over poorer
ones, researchers say

BOSTON - President Bush's signature education policy has in
some cases benefited white middle-class children over blacks
and other minorities in poorer regions, a Harvard University
study indicated today.

Political compromises forged between some states and the
federal government has allowed schools in some
predominantly white districts to dodge penalties faced by
regions with larger ethnic minority populations, the study
said.

Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was meant to introduce
national standards to an education system where only two-
thirds of teenagers graduate from high school, a proportion
that slides to 50 percent for black Americans and Hispanics.

But instead of uniform standards, the policy has allowed
various states to negotiate treaties and bargains to reduce the
number of schools and districts identified as failing, said the
study by Harvard University's Civil Rights Project.

"There's a very uneven effect. There are no clear uniform
standards that are governing No Child Left Behind. If one
state gets one thing, another state can do something else,"
said the study's author, Gail Sunderman.

Under No Child Left Behind, children in every racial and
demographic group in every school must improve their scores
on standardized tests in math and English each year. Failure
to achieve annual progress can lead to sanctions against
schools.

Children in poorly performing schools can switch schools if
space is available. In extreme cases, schools can be closed.

But a surge in the number of schools identified as "needing
improvement," including many considered top performers in
their state, has stirred opposition to the law nationwide
from a challenge in Connecticut to a rebellion by state
legislators in staunchly Republican Utah.

The 60-page study examines letters sent by the Department
of Education to all 50 states on how each state can administer
the law and on their accountability plans.

Nearly every state has taken some action to amend the law or
been granted waivers to provisions in No Child Left Behind,
the study said. "The problem with this approach is that it does
not affect all schools equally," Sunderman said. "No two states
are now subject to the same requirements."

In one example the study cites, states in rural Midwestern
regions were granted extensions to deadlines to meet
requirements on teacher qualifications that were unavailable
to poorer rural regions with greater numbers of black
Americans and ethnic minorities in southeast and southwest
states.

"The policy is essentially a product of negotiation, of power
and discretion, not law," said Gary Orfield, director of
Harvard's Civil Rights Project.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has said the law
works, citing data showing reading scores for 9-year-olds up
more over the last five years than between 1971 and 1999.

— Jason Szep
Houston Chronicle

2006-02-14


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