ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Nearly four years into the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation's urban school districts are making only slight progress in raising test scores, and they're making no progress in reducing the achievement gap between white and minority students. That's the word today from 11 city school districts. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has details.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:
Between 2003 and 2005, most fourth- and eighth-graders in the 11 cities in the study made very modest progress in reading and math, but most continue to perform well below the national average, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation's report card. The percentage of fourth-graders performing below basic in math, in fact, grew in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. Only Austin and Charlotte, North Carolina, exceeded the national average in math. In reading, Atlanta and New York City did see their fourth-grade scores go up, but reading scores overall remained flat, including in cities like San Diego, Houston and Boston.
Ms. SHEILA FORD (Vice Chairman, National Assessment Governing Board): I'm very worried.
SANCHEZ: Sheila Ford, vice chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversaw the study, says everybody should be worried when you consider that big-city schools have the highest concentrations of poor minority children.
Ms. FORD: There still is so much work to be done. The level of below-basic and basic is just not acceptable. This is not what we want for our children, and this is not what we want for our nation.
SANCHEZ: The most worrisome trend is that in the last two to three years, the achievement gap between blacks, Latinos and whites has stayed the same and may even be widening. That's really bad news for the Bush administration because during that period of time, the White House has insisted that under No Child Left Behind, the gap is closing. Speaking to educators today, US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings agreed that urban school systems need to work harder, but she cites the gap issue, suggesting instead that cities in the study deserve credit for helping minority students outperform minorities everywhere else.
Secretary MARGARET SPELLINGS (Department of Education): African-American and Hispanic students in most of these districts performed as well or better than others from these minority groups nationwide, in every subject and in every grade. Overall, this data shows that urban districts are helping students achieve.
SANCHEZ: Sheila Ford disagrees. She says the administration needs to be more forthcoming about the impact that No Child Left Behind is having, especially on inner-city minority students.
Ms. FORD: Because this information that is being released now says it's not meeting the needs of our young people, and it hasn't met our expectations as a nation.
SANCHEZ: The question that we all need to ask now, says Ford, is: Are kids really doing better today than they were without the law? Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Washington.
SIEGEL: And you can read the full results of the No Child Left Behind assessment at our Web site, npr.org.