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October 16, 2003, Extra Credit
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October 16, 2003
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It's Working!

In addition to providing information about the law, Extra Credit often features a brief snapshot of a recent news item related to the bipartisan No Child Left Behind law. Today's edition breaks with that standard as we reprint in its entirety an editorial from today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. As the Democrat-Gazette concludes: "It's not just a slogan, it's the law—and a wise policy: Leave no child behind."

It's Working!

WE CONFESS: Leave No Child Behind sounded more like a snappy campaign slogan than an actual bill. We'd seen it happen before: Take one high-minded ideal, include it in the campaign literature, and then, when it comes time to turn promise into program, forget it. Or at least whittle it down so it stays on the books but never makes it into real life. Or, in this case, never makes any real change in a child's life. Leave No Child Behind sounded like the perfect candidate for that kind of treatment: Give the idea a lick and a promise, take credit for a Bold New Initiative, then move on to the next PR ploy. Years later some education buff or political archaeologist might ask, "Say, what ever happened to the No Child Left Behind Act?" It would have vanished without a trace.

Well, imagine our surprise. Because this time the feds sound serious. Some of the best schools in the country are being told they're no longer the best schools in the country. Because they're leaving too many kids behind—the kind of kids that have been falling through the cracks for years without anybody's really noticing.

Well, now somebody is. Schools that had met and topped state standards when student test scores were lumped together and averaged—fine schools, at least for fine students—now find themselves being warned by the feds: Shape up or face penalties.

It can be a bit of a jolt. To quote the principal of Eastover Elementary School in an upscale neighborhood of Charlotte, N. C. — "It was a major slap in all our faces. My parents are saying, 'We are confused.'"

Eastover Elementary isn't alone. It's happening all over the country. Listen to Bruce Voelkel, principal of an elementary school in Fort Lauderdale that was doing fine according to Florida's state standards. But not when the feds sifted the test scores." My school was A-plus by Governor Bush's program," says the principal. "But we did not make adequate yearly progress according to brother George's program."

Eighty-seven percent of the schools in Florida are said to be falling short, which makes the Sunshine State the national leader in this dubious ranking. South Carolina is right down there with 77 percent of its schools adjudged less than satisfactory, followed by Idaho (73 percent) and Hawaii (71 percent).

All of these eye-popping figures come from a story in the Dallas Morning News, which reports that 58 percent of Arkansas schools are failing short.

What's happening here? How can that many states have that many sub-standard schools?

The trouble isn't the bright, well adjusted kids who get a lot of parental attention and have all kinds of advantages, of course. It seldom is.

The No Child Left Behind Act focuses on how well schools are doing by the kind of kids who never got this kind of attention in the past—the poor, the disabled, the racially isolated, those to whom English is a second language.... Each of those categories is singled out for attention. The act doesn't just average out all the test scores in a school; it breaks the student body down into different groups by income and race and so on, and if one group is failing, the whole school is in trouble.

The act apparently means what it says: No children are to be left behind. This administration has taken aim at what George W. Bush has called the soft bigotry of low expectations. There are to be no exceptions, no waivers, no excuses when it comes to evaluating how well the nation's schools are doing by their long neglected students.

Naturally various schools have asked for more time to compile their test results. To which a deputy secretary of education in Washington, Eugene Hickok, replies: "On our part, it is not a conversation about delaying a year or winking and looking the other way." A school that fails to educate the least of these can't expect to escape censure. Either schools raise their scores or they risk some serious consequences. Like their students' being allowed to transfer to better-performing schools. Or, if student performance continues to lag, the state could take over the failing school, or just shut it down and re-assign the pupils.

SOME EDUCATORS have got the message—and are passing it on. "It is a hard thing for parents to swallow," says Principal Lockley of Eastover Elementary in Charlotte. "I have to go to church and people look at me and say, 'What are we doing at Eastover?'" Mr. Lockley had to meet with parents to explain how the No Child Left Behind Act works. Glory be, they understood. "Rather than screaming and yelling," he reports, "my parents jumped into the legislation" and resolved to help raise test scores.

These good people seemed to understand that, if the poorest or most isolated kids fail, all do. Because, easy as it is to lose sight of, we're all in this together. Our kids don't just go to school together; they're going to share the same world as adults, that is, the same economy and the same culture. And America can't afford to write off whole segments of the population.

There will always be those who don't get it, who would rather ignore the problem than confront it. To quote one school superintendent in Colorado, whose district produces all kinds of Merit Scholars, and whose students score in the 95th percentile on average, "We have a very strong accountability system with our local community...." After all, his schools' performance is already being assessed by a couple of different programs. "Do I really need a third one from the federal government?" he asks.

Yes, he does, if he's leaving too many kids behind. No matter how well the others do. It's as simple, and as challenging, as that. Let's stop fooling ourselves. Unless we educate all, all will be dragged down by those we fail to nurture.

It's not just a slogan, it's the law—and a wise policy: Leave no child behind.

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About Extra Credit
NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

If you would like the NCLB Extra Credit emailed to you, please send a request to Geoff Goodman at NoChildLeftBehindUpdate@ed.gov or call (202) 205-9191.

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