Education secretary announces changes to No Child Left Behindby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
The No Child Left Behind education act has been hard medicine for Minnesota schools to swallow. Currently, nearly two out of three schools are not meeting the law's benchmark of annual student progress.
But U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was in St. Paul today to ask teachers and administrators to give No Child Left Behind another chance.
St. Paul, Minn. — No Child Left Behind started six years ago with a noble intention: To get every school kid performing at grade level by the year 2014.
The law lays out a series of benchmarks that schools must meet and serious consequences for those who do not make them.
The law encourages kids to abandon faltering schools. It requires publicly-funded tutoring for students at other schools.
But now, it's looking more and more like the law itself isn't making the grade. It was supposed to be up for renewal in Washington last year, but its languishing in the Democrat-controlled Congress.
But U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was in Minnesota on Tuesday to ask educators, students, parents and others to give No Child Left Behind another chance.
"Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we have collected more information about our schools than ever before. We know where they're falling short, and where they're soaring. We know which students need help and which are ready to go to the next level. We really can use data to help improve this enterprise of education, more so than ever in the history of our country. And that is the power and the influence of No Child Left Behind," Spellings said.
Spellings offered to ease some of the law's mandates. The secretary said she'd consider applications from 10 states to re-adjust the consequences for schools that aren't measuring up.
She said educators may be allowed to focus their attention on kids that need it most, rather than on entire schools.
"No Child Left Behind functions much like a pass-fail system. But we now can make distinctions across that accountability spectrum, distinctions about those chronic underperformers and those schools that are very much in range," Spellings said.
But state Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said Minnesota won't be among those that get wider latitude to deal with struggling schools.
"We'd have to get a lot worse before we'd be eligible, which is good news for Minnesota," said Seagren. "We have been talking, though, with Secretary Spellings, that if we have ideas for improvement and some pilot ideas, can we get ready to submit them, and she's assured us that we can start working on that."
Still, some took heart that Washington is at least considering some changes, even if they won't have an immediate effect here.
Joann Knuth, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, says she's encouraged that No Child Left Behind may be less one-size-fits-all and more ready to acknowledge limited success.
"We have to honor the progress that students are making, particularly in the areas of special education and English language learners. They have some additional challenges to meet, and to be able to give them some validation that they are making progress is, I think, a good thing," said Knuth.
But others think that just changing the yardstick by which success is measured isn't going to fix the problems in Minnesota schools.
Ann Long Voelkner, chairwoman of the Bemidji school board, said she does not think No Child Left Behind is the solution.
"I don't think that's the solution, to change the rules," Voelkner.
She said No Child Left Behind has good intentions.
"The notion behind No Child Left Behind, that we truly want every child to succeed, that is a grand notion," Voelkner said. But, she added, "I'd like to see some money for these unfunded mandates."
No Child Left Behind was supposed to be renewed last year. Spellings told legislators Tuesday she doesn't know now if it will survive the Bush administration or not.
- All Things Considered, 03/18/2008, 4:45 p.m.