Ed Secretary Duncan rails against NCLB, urges new education law 

It’s not often you hear a Democrat rail against “one-size-fits-all mandates dictated from Washington” and calls for an approach to education reform built around “locally tailored solutions that effectively reach the students most at risk and close achievement gaps.” But that’s exactly what Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote yesterday in Politico.

“As it currently exists," Duncan wrote, "NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers.”

The problem is a provision of No Child Left Behind known as AYP (adequate yearly progress.) When No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002, it required states to develop their own standardized test to measure student proficiency in reading and math. It then stipulated that all students should test proficiently in those subjects by 2014. Each year, states and school districts must therefore meet a higher benchmark of student achievement on the tests as they work towards the goal of 100% proficiency.

Any school receiving federal Title I funds that fails to make AYP for two years in a row or more is deemed in need of improvement, and faces consequences. As 2014 gets closer, more schools are failing to make AYP, because it becomes increasingly difficult to increase the percentage of students who excel on standardized test.

Further complicating the issue, NCLB breaks student populations down into racial and economic sub-groups, and schools must meet their goals in each subgroup, along with attendance or graduation rate targets, to make AYP. However, no distinction is made between schools that fail to make AYP in every subgroup and schools that fall short in just one.

Some states have responded to these challenges by watering down their tests – deliberately establishing low standards that their students can easily meet. By the time 2014 rolls around, though, even schools where 90 percent of students are proficient in reading and math will be considering failing by the federal government.

 Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is proposing to remedy the situation with “waivers.” States that promote reforms the Obama administration likes will be excluded from the rigors of NCLB, similar to the way the administration awarded “Race to the Top” grants. States that don’t get waivers will remain caught up in a web of impossible regulations, until Congress enacts another new “education reform” bill.

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Ralph Smith

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