Right on cue, NCLB produces more failure
The great majority of states, including Kentucky, have failed to meet another set of deadlines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and so have evoked from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yet more ominous threats, including the punishment of slashing their federal funding.
"I want the states to know that Congress and the President mean business on the law," she said.
For a time, Secretary Spellings seemed fairly sympathetic to states' struggles to comply with NCLB's many demands. Matter of fact, she said, "Last year it was, 'We're marching together toward the deadline,' but now it's time for, 'Your homework is due.' "
Of course, it's an election season, and the heat is on.
It's coming no doubt from within the Bush administration, eager to look competent at something, and from worried congressional conservatives, seeking to show their base that they are still bravely crusading against "godless," and, thus, failing public schools.
The good news is that Kentucky, which got serious about accountability long before Washington did, isn't meekly accepting the arbitrary declarations of failure. "We are challenging that designation of not being in compliance, and we have provided … more evidence that we either are in compliance or will be soon," Kentucky Education Department spokesperson Lisa Gross said. "Our concern throughout the implementation period of No Child Left Behind is the inconsistency of the decisions" by federal education officials.
For example, they rejected Kentucky's proposals for meeting certain NCLB requirements but then turned around and approved the same or very similar proposals from other states.
Indeed, Nebraska's education officials have gone so far as to accuse Secretary Spellings and her underlings of being "mean-spirited, arbitrary and heavy-handed."
States, districts and schools are now being declared failures because their ways of testing don't match Washington's, because their teachers' credentials aren't uniformly good enough and because the scores of certain subgroups of students, while improving, aren't improving fast enough.
As Ms. Gross put it, "With No Child Left Behind, it's all or nothing."
The recent escalation in the administration's tough talk coincides with two other events: first, the release of a federally commissioned study that embarrassed the administration by finding that private schools are no more successful than public ones, and, second, the introduction, nevertheless, of a national school voucher plan by congressional Republicans.
Taken together, it all adds up to more evidence that NCLB is less about improving public schools than about finding excuses to discredit and abandon them, in favor of their unaccountable private and religious counterparts.