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Bulk of No Child 'here to stay,' but changes sought

Comments from Annie: I borrowed my editorial comment on this following report from Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

“Alice said nothing; she had sat down with her face in her hands, wondering if anything would EVER happen in a natural way again.”

Here is another summary of the Aspen Institute’s [faux-] commission on NCLB and the nine hundred ninety nine thousandth citation of the word: “rigorous”....

Bulk of No Child 'here to stay,' but changes sought

A panel heard more discussion before suggestions go to Congress. The law is up for renewal next year.

By Dan Hardy

Inquirer Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - When the No Child Left Behind law comes up for renewal next year, changes are needed to make it more effective, the cochairman of a bipartisan commission said yesterday.

The commission members generally agree that No Child Left Behind's signature features "are here to stay," former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes told reporters during a break in testimony here at George Washington University.

Barnes cochairs the commission, which has been taking testimony on the law. Yesterday's hearing was the final session before the commission drafts its recommendations to Congress early next year.

No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, was passed with bipartisan support and went into effect in 2002. It requires that students score at grade level on standardized tests with all students meeting proficiency by 2014. It holds schools accountable if they do not.

The law "has dramatically changed the national conversation over education policy," Barnes said yesterday.

While No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization by Congress next year, it is uncertain whether final action will take place before the next presidential election, Barnes said. The law remains in place until action is taken.

Barnes said the features that will remain include: testing to determine student performance; holding schools accountable for improving the academic performance of all ethnic groups as well as learning-disabled children, limited-English students, and low-income children; and establishing a year by which all students should perform at grade level.

'The law is working'

The 12 witnesses who testified included Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon, the presidents of both major teachers unions, high-ranking national and state education-policy officials, the CEO of the Edison Schools educational management organization, and representatives of several education think tanks.

Simon said that "the law is working," but added that the Bush administration wanted to see more accountability in high schools, where currently only the 11th grade is tested. He also said there should be more "use of school choice and tutoring." Those features are included in the current law, but only about 1 percent of students in failing schools transfer out and only about 20 percent of students who are eligible receive tutoring. Simon also said he would like to see other subjects tested besides math and reading.

He concluded: "We hope that the commission... will recommend to the Congress that [No Child Left Behind's] major provisions remain intact."
The 15-member commissionis headed by former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and Barnes. It is composed of a cross-section of educational stakeholders and academic experts.

While there was agreement on the law's main features, there was considerable discussion and differences in emphasis among the panel members and witnesses. Michael Casserly, the executive director of a coalition of big-city school districts, for example, said there should be a national standard that all students must meet. Currently, each state decides its benchmarks for passing.

'Growth model'

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association teachers union, disagreed, saying there was no evidence a national standard would work.

Valerie Woodruff, Delaware's secretary of education, reflected the views of many when she said that instead of requiring that students in all schools achieve the same average score to meet federal accountability standards, the law should use a "growth model," where students meet the standard if they show continuing improvement.

Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust think tank, said that would be fine, but only if students were expected to achieve proficiency in a certain number of years and the standards reflected the real educational needs of our society. Barnes said he, too, favored a growth model for accountability; Simon said during his testimony that the Education Department is experimenting with that system in two states.

Thompson and Barnes said during a news conference that they would recommend that No Child Left Behind be changed to include some way of making sure that state accountability tests were more rigorous. "I don't think the states have been quite as honest as they should be in regard to their testing and standards," Thompson said.

Simon, the education deputy secretary, said during his testimony that he agreed "we need to have some discussion about the relative difficulty of the standards," but establishing a national accountability test would not be "possible in this political environment."

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

— Dan Hardy
Philadelphia Inquirer


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