Revisions to No Child Left Behind

Education correspondent Claudio Sanchez discusses changes to the No Child Left Behind law. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently announced a pilot program that will allow schools in 10 states to adopt a "growth model" of testing — measuring students' progress over time, instead of year to year.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Over the past year or so, the Bush administration has made some significant concessions to critics of No Child Left Behind. The changes make it easier for schools to meet the standards of the administration's landmark education plan. Most recently, US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings unveiled a new way to rate the performance of schools. NPR's Claudio Sanchez is here to explain.

Claudio, tell us about this growth model policy.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:

Well, first, to understand the growth model that people have been talking about for months and months, especially this summer, Michele, we have to understand how this law is working. The No Child Left Behind law requires that all children regardless of income, race or ethnicity be able to read and do math at grade level or above. So for the past three years, the law, under No Child Left Behind, the federal government has evaluated public schools based on the progress students make towards this goal by comparing students year to year. Schools that do not make adequate yearly progress are targeted for improvement. Then, in the worst cases, there are sanctions.

States have complained, of course, that the law is too rigid, that it does not take into account the progress that kids make over time, not just year to year. So last Friday, US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she agreed. She now supports something called a growth model, and that will help gauge students' progress over the long term. The change is to be piloted in 10 states and is designed to appease a political firestorm after it became very clear that under No Child Left Behind, the vast majority of schools, even those considered to be good schools, were just not making enough progress.

NORRIS: So changes in 10 states. What other changes are there, and why did the department give in at this moment?

SANCHEZ: Well, the political timing, of course, is always suspect. One reason that this may have happened, of course, is because the last thing the administration needs at this time is the grief that it's been getting from governors, increasingly Republicans and Democrats, who say this law is unworkable, it's unfunded and it's intrusive.

NORRIS: Any other changes?

SANCHEZ: Well, the other changes involve teacher training, they involve who provides supplemental services for remediation or kids who need a lot of help. Keep in mind that since her appointment a year ago this month, Margaret Spellings has been fielding so many complaints that, really, she's had no choice. She has had to tinker over and over again, and we've seen the results. I mean, we are seeing now less criticism. On the other hand, there are serious questions as to whether this law is being watered down or not.

NORRIS: Is this the beginning of the end of this program?

SANCHEZ: I don't think so. Remember that this is an enormously important law, comparable to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was landmarked and it marked a very, very aggressive and important step the federal government took in taking over, really, the levels of accountability or the degree of accountability, public accountability schools are responsible for.

What I see, though, is to some degree, maybe more concessions down the road. The big one, I would say, and that others have agreed might come down the road, is really changing the deadline that requires all children to perform at grade level, not just in reading and math, but science and social studies by the year 2014. That deadline is fast approaching, and there's little or no evidence that we're going to be remotely close.

Also, the gap between black and white, rich and poor, isn't as wide as it used to be, but it's not closing very much, either. And that, again, was a major of this law.

NORRIS: Thank you, Claudio.

SANCHEZ: You're welcome.

NORRIS: NPR's Claudio Sanchez.

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