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No more smoke and mirrors to hide results
Following is the complete text of a column in today's Carolina Morning News:
Guest Column: No Child Left Behind is good news for S.C.The author, Ashley Landess, is vice president for public affairs of the South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Columbia. For more information about the Policy Council, visit www.scpolicycouncil.com
When President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law, the goal was to provide the states more dollars for struggling schools and give them more flexibility with which to spend it, in exchange for more accountability.
This year, the Adequate Yearly Progress report required by NCLB and the subsequent news coverage left many South Carolinians confused about exactly what the law requires and what it does not. Some education officials and members of the media have painted a grim picture of NCLB as a draconian, punitive law that forces South Carolina to test children who don't speak English, refuses to pay for improvements, and forces an unfair comparison of our state to others.
None of this is accurate. In fact, the ideas behind NCLB are not new to our state at all. Back in 1998, the South Carolina Education Accountability Act put into place much of what NCLB requires. The difference is that NCLB provides several million extra federal dollars to fund the very same accountability and standards that should already have been in place in our state.
NCLB is not an unfair, unfunded mandate. It does not force states to compare their progress to others. It does not punish schools that are identified as needing help, and it absolutely does not mandate that schools engage in cruel treatment of children such as forcing newly arrived non-English speaking students to take the PACT test in English, or giving severely handicapped children the same test as other students.
Many education officials argue that our state's standards are so much higher than those of other states that comparison is unfair. The truth is that NCLB does not require a comparison of our state to others. South Carolina is not judged by how well it fares relative to, say, North Carolina, but rather how well it fares based on the standards our state has defined for itself.
For example, in South Carolina, "proficient" is defined as being prepared to be successful in the next grade. This year, the state Department of Education set a goal of 17.6 percent of our students to be "proficient" in reading, and 15.5 percent in math. This means that schools that received "needs improvement" ratings had groups of children in which five out of every six children were not prepared to be successful in the next grade in math, and four out of every five children were not prepared to be successful in reading.
Is that fair to those children? Are these standards really too high?
Hardly. It is to South Carolina's advantage to identify schools where children need more help and move the resources provided by NCLB to them quickly so all children can succeed.
No Child Left Behind means what it says - we will not allow certain children to be shuffled out of the equation. Schools will test all children, and do what they have to in order to help every child succeed in the classroom.
For example, many South Carolina education officials complain that NCLB forces them to test kids who do not speak English with other students. That is not accurate. NCLB does require those children to eventually be tested in English - as they should be. But it gives schools three years to help children get ready to be tested in English, and the dollars to assess their proficiency and help them learn our language.
It is true that special education legislation and NCLB require that handicapped children be tested - again, as they should be. But it does allow for an alternative test to be given that is appropriate so that those children's learning level is assessed as well.
No child should be forgotten or ignored in our state. Every child needs to make progress.
While many correctly argue that education is the job of the states and that the federal government should not intrude in this area, the benefits of NCLB far outweigh any concerns. No state is forced to comply if they choose to forgo the federal dollars, which have increased 40 percent to the states since NCLB was passed.
Furthermore, the requirements are right in line with what our state has already mandated in terms of standards and accountability. In addition, NCLB requires that if schools continue to fall below standards, parents should have choices that allow them to choose more successful schools for their children. That is a vital component of any education policy.
Many schools across the country and in our state have rolled up their sleeves in order to comply with NCLB. They recognize that the only way to improve their schools is to face the reality of where every child is academically and make the commitment to improve instruction for all children.
This means using teaching methods that are research-proven, and testing children to make sure that all children are prepared to be successful in the next grade, and in their lives. It means no more smoke and mirrors to hide results that clearly indicate improvement is needed - where problems exist, solutions should be offered instead of excuses.
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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.
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Last Modified: 03/11/2005