Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2003

Federal education act’s flaws should be left behind

August 21, 2003

De Soto USD 232 has already run afoul of what appears to be the an incomprehensible flaw in the 2001 federal education reform legislation known as No Child Left Behind. As passed by Congress two years ago, the act will eventually demand that all special education students perform at a proficiency level.
It was understood that no school would be able to attain that level immediately, for either general population or special education students. So instead, schools are asked to be making adequate yearly progress on state assessment tests. Those that don't face the possibility of losing federal aid in coming years.
The 5 percent improvement De Soto's special education students made on reading assessment tests was short of the 10 percent needed to demonstrate adequate progress. The Board of Education and district administration are pondering options, but as long as the federal government demands all special education students perform at proficiency levels, failure would seem to be inevitable.
Given the stakes of federal funding, it could be assumed lawmakers wanted to remove the temptation for school administrators to place low-performing, unmotivated students into special education programs and therefore exempt them from testing. Surely, safeguards could be built in to prevent such maneuvering. The assumption also ignores the advocacy role of parents.
The demand that special education students test at the same level as the general population peers is so absurd that it calls into question the real goal of the authors of No Child Left Behind and revives suspicions they wanted to prove public education is failing. The motivation could well be vouchers.
Whether such a conspiracy view is warranted, it is indisputable that Congress isn't funding No Child Left Behind as promised when the act was passed. This should have been expected given Congress' fondness for unfunded or under-funded mandates. In an ironic and enlightening twist to De Soto's experience on the state assessment tests, Congress is providing less than a quarter of special education dollars it promised nearly three decades ago when it overhauled that aspect of education.
Public education advocates can't afford a similar Congressional response with No Child Left Behind. They need to speak in a uniform and organized voice that the law needs to be revisited and adequate funding provided. The De Soto district's early acknowledgement of the issue is a positive step in that response.

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