US Education Department relaxing some No Child Left Behind rules

US Education Department relaxing some No Child Left Behind rules

[JURIST] US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings [official profile] Tuesday announced [speech text] a new pilot program [press release] under the federal No Child Left Behind program [official website] that is aimed at narrowing statewide education reform to focus on schools most in need of "dramatic intervention":

One thing we know for sure is that we must take dramatic action to improve our lowest-performing schools. We also know that not all struggling schools are alike, and that many states have identified a wide range of schools for improvement. That's why today, I'm announcing a new pilot that will help states improve underperforming schools. This "differentiated accountability" program will invite up to 10 states to create more nuanced ways of distinguishing between schools in need of dramatic intervention, and those that are closer to meeting goals.

In keeping with previous efforts, we will give preference to states that have been pioneers for reform – as Maryland, North Dakota, Louisiana, and South Dakota have been leaders on accountability, and Massachusetts has been a leader on standards. We will also prioritize applications from states that have identified many schools for improvement.

The goal is to help educators act now to help schools in every stage of improvement. We can't afford to let struggling students continue to slide downhill.

This is not one-sided flexibility. To be eligible, states must commit to taking serious action. They must have approved assessment systems to measure student achievement. They must publish timely, transparent information about educational progress and challenges, as well as options for parents. And they must commit to building their capacity for reform, and focusing their most significant actions around their lowest-performing schools, such as the so-called "dropout factories" that produce up to half of high school dropouts. By evaluating participants annually, my department will help identify proven methods for others to follow.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act [text], signed into law in 2002, nearly one-tenth of the nation's schools have been designated as "in need of improvement," overwhelming state resources. The new program would give states more flexibility to concentrate resources on schools most in need of improvement and reduce state accountability for schools that only marginally fail to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Several teachers' organizations, including the National Education Association (NEA) [advocacy website; press release], welcomed the new program, which is similar to amendments proposed to the Act by Democrats last year. In 2005, the Education Department eased some of the law's rules [JURIST report], allowing schools to base credit on the academic growth of individual students, as opposed to measuring the progress of all students against a federally mandated standard. The New York Times has more.