Archive for Thursday, February 1, 2007

Congress needs to address NCLB Ponzi scheme

February 1, 2007

The De Soto High School administration and faculty have put together an inventive program to motivate students when taking state assessment tests. The rewards the program offers good students and interventions it creates to reach those struggling in math and reading are a reflection of the difficulty in realizing the increasing tough annual yearly progress dictated by the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The bill is up for reauthorization this year. The focus seems to be on funding, and Congressman Dennis Moore has said he won't support reauthorization without Congress adding in the billions of dollars promised six years ago when the bill was first passed.

Money is a concern. De Soto High School, for example, plans to add a reading specialist next year to work with students needing help to reach that proficiency goal.

But no amount of money can address the fundamental flaw in No Child Left Behind. That is the expectation that all students will perform at the proficiency level by 2014 no matter their intellectual limitations, behavioral problems or unfamiliarity with English. Unfortunately, those factors will prevent some students from fully grasping algebra or geometry concepts.

We will grant that by holding out for a 100-percent proficiency goal and setting tough benchmarks to 2014, the Bush administration has forced some school districts to reach many students who would not have been expected to perform in the past. It is also true that the rising bar of expectations leaves no room for complacency and that innovative solutions like those proposed at De Soto High School will mean greater success in reaching difficult students.

No Child Left Behind as it is written now is akin to a Ponzi scheme, doomed to fail but offering short-term rewards. The truth is that no matter how hard schools try, how professional their faculty or how motivated the students, a growing number of schools will fail to meet the ever-increasing standards.

Whether reality is accepted this year with the bill's reauthorization or the illusion is sustained for a few more years with the hope of squeezing greater progress from schools, at some point Congress has to recognize the difference between difficult and impossible.

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