Monday, July 03, 2006

Is F.L.A. About to Say "N.O." To N.C.L.B.?

Florida is the latest state that is making noise about pulling out of the federal No Child Left Behind Act:
More than 500 high-poverty Florida schools could be forced under the federal No Child Left Behind law to privatize, become charters, replace most of their staffs or make other major changes -- even though some have repeatedly received A or B grades from the state.

A handful of low-performing schools have already faced that choice under Florida's own education accountability laws. But it could become far more widespread next year unless those schools make unprecedented gains on the state's high-stakes standardized test.

''This calls for a drastic change of culture, an entirely new environment,'' said Rod Paige, the former U.S. secretary of education who oversaw the creation of No Child Left Behind in 2001.

But Florida's education commissioner suggested in an interview Friday that he may defy the federal law -- and risk losing millions in funding -- if he cannot convince Congress or federal education officials to take a more moderate stance.

''My first duty is to the state of Florida's accountability system; I will act accordingly,'' Education Commissioner John Winn told The Miami Herald. ``I'd be hard pressed to demand an A school make wholesale restructuring.''

No Child Left Behind created a ladder of penalties for schools that fail to meet federal standards. The strongest sanction forces a school to plan for dramatic restructuring if it falls short for five consecutive years. If it fails a sixth time, that plan must be immediately implemented.

In Florida, 535 public schools have missed the goal -- known as Adequate Yearly Progress -- for four years. And because AYP standards become more difficult every year, the percentage of schools making it dropped this year from 36 to 28 percent.

It will likely drop further as the targets soar toward 100 percent proficiency. Within a few years, Paige said, huge numbers of urban schools will confront restructuring.

''It would seem the day of reckoning is coming,'' said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, an independent public-school advocacy group in Washington.

The federal government's jurisdiction over schools is limited. The No Child penalties apply only to the high-poverty schools that receive federal money under Title I. But that list includes hundreds of South Florida schools. Seventy-nine schools in Miami-Dade County and 32 in Broward have already missed AYP for four consecutive years.
There is much more to read in the whole thing.

If money is the "mother's milk" of politics, so it is with education.

I really don't see Florida being able to forego those federal dollars any more than any of the other states that have also threatened to give NCLB the boot but ultimately can't wean themselves from that federally-supplied milk.

Still, we think that when the federal government mandated that 100% of any given school's student body must achieve grade-level proficiency in reading and math (as measured on standardized tests) or else, America's public schools were given an unobtainable goal.

It was always my understanding that goals were supposed to be both realistic and obtainable.

Under NCLB's requirements, a school can get 98% of students over the bar and still be labeled by Washington's wouldn't-work-in-a-classroom-on-a-bet-educrats as an "underperforming school" and therefore subject to a variety of sanctions.

How can that possbly be fair to working educators or their students?
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