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October 18, 2004 Extra Credit
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October 19, 2004

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NCLB Gives "Good Principals … Power They Never Had Before"

The following are excerpts from today’s column by Jay Mathews on Washingtonpost.com. He argues that No Child Left Behind’s accountability requirements help principals know where to focus resources to ensure all children are learning:

"Washington Post Metro page columnist Marc Fisher last week used the stories of two excellent elementary schools to trash, once again, the No Child Left Behind Act. I was delighted to read his columns because they were not only well-written, but gave me a chance to expose, once again, Marc’s ill-considered bias against giving kids standardized tests and making the results have some consequences for the school."

"[B]oth [Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Fairfax County, VA] and [Anne Beers Elementary School in the Hillcrest section of Southeast Washington, DC] have been helped by the new federal law because its accountability rules give good principals such as Frey [of Bailey’s] and Fears [of Anne Beers] power they never had before.

"Many critics of No Child Left Behind hint darkly of monstrous educational practices about to devour the best schools. But when asked to point them out, they have trouble coming up with examples. Marc says in the Bailey’s column that ‘many schools hack away at the arts to focus on test-taking skills.’ I am willing to buy him a new Washington Grays baseball cap if he can find any such schools in Fairfax County, a very well-run system whose principals and teachers have been preparing students for the new tests without wringing the joy out of learning."

"[M]ost policy makers and educators say [No Child Left Behind] has the right idea. Learning should be measured with tests. Standardized tests are in many ways better than the teachers’ tests that have ruled schools up to now, because teachers can quietly decide not to test concepts that they have failed to teach well."

"Good educators such as Frey and Fears need a standard to guide them, a target to shoot for, so they can convince teachers to spend more time helping struggling students, convince parents to make sure homework is done and convince administrators at headquarters not to choke them with red tape."

"Helping kids learn requires knowing each year how much they haven’t learned, and using those numbers to do something about it. The educators at Bailey's and Beers know that, and I suspect the skeptics out there, particularly those as smart at Marc Fisher, will figure it out soon enough."

The complete text of this article is available online.

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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: 10/20/2004