Give improvement a chance, education secretary insists

  • William Raspberry
  • Sunday, June 6, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

WASHINGTON – People who think the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind approach to school reform is almost mindlessly rigid like to point to schools such as Langley High in Northern Virginia or Bellaire in suburban Houston to make their point.

So it came as a bit of a surprise that Education Secretary Rod Paige would single out those two schools as evidence in support of the program.

Bellaire and Langley are, by virtually all measures, among the top public schools in America – teeming with bright students, first-rate teachers, innovative programs and fawningly supportive parents.

But last spring, both fell short of NCLB’s rigorous requirements. At least one subgroup at each of the schools failed to make “adequate yearly progress,” and under the rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education, that meant the schools fell short of the mark.

“That’s the problem with NCLB,” Langley’s principal, William Clendaniel, told me. “We are generally acknowledged to be one of the best schools in the country, and yet we got graded as failing. We were going to appeal this in some way, and I think we could have prevailed. But we wanted people to see the ridiculousness – the lack of flexibility – in the approach.”

Paige would make two points. First, his department never classified Langley as “failing.” It merely pointed that at least one of the several subgroupings of students specified in the regulations fell short, meaning that the school was “in need of improvement.” The subgroups are designated by economics, ethnicity, English-language proficiency and disability, among other categories. Clendaniel said Langley fell short with special-ed students.

But Paige’s main point is that these supposedly outlandish examples prove the case.

“We’ve been under enormous pressure to change the NCLB legislation – much of the pressure coming through members of Congress,” he said. “I’ve taken the position of opposing any legislative change.

“Why? I have read the history of IDEA (the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) several times, and I have read the discussion around the reauthorization legislation. And I am left with the belief that there has never been a serious political will to stick with these programs long enough to give them a chance to work. At the first sign of pain, they ask for waivers or legislative relief, or they sic their legislators on us. They always can find 2,050 reasons not to do it. I want to know: When are you going to do it?”

Paige said he has been willing to provide regulatory relief from particular problems, where he can do so without changing the law. He dismisses the criticism that much of what is required under NCLB amounts to “unfunded mandates.” After all, states can avoid the mandate by giving up the funding that goes with it.

Where he refuses to yield an inch is on the idea of “disaggregating” the scores of various subgroups from schoolwide results. Many a school problem has been hidden under a blanket of “average” scores. That can be especially easy in schools where most students are high achievers because underachieving subgroups tend to get submerged in schoolwide numbers. That, says Paige, is why NCLB insists on making sure that each subgroup, and not just the overall student body, makes “adequate yearly progress.” Without disaggregation, he says, there’s no incentive to make it happen.

Langley’s Clendaniel – surprise! – agrees. “We were upset to be identified as a failing school, when we knew what terrific work we are doing. But I have to say that the next year, we did go out and remediate the heck out of those (special-ed) kids. The teachers took it personally, do a lot on their own time. And now we don’t have any underperforming subgroups.”

Clendaniel may not be a convert to NCLB, but the controversial program does, he admits, “make you pay attention to individual students more closely than you might have before.”

To the embattled Paige, that must sound like a testimonial.

William Raspberry is a Washington Post columnist. Contact him by writing to willrasp@washpost.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Monday, Feb. 26

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo, a tanker airplane drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning near Twisp, Wash. Three firefighters were killed battling the blaze. The story was a top Washington state news item in 2015. Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has proposed a plan to strengthen the ways that Washington can prevent and respond to wildfires. Franz released the 10-year plan last week as part of her $55 million budget request to the Legislature to improve the state's firefighting abilities (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: Wildfire threat calls for restoring full funding

Lawmakers should restore funding for fighting wildfires and call on one furry firefighter in particular.

Comment: Federal cuts to wildfire crews may hit at worst time

Conditions may increase the threat of wildfires just as the U.S. Forest Service is bracing for budget cuts.

Comment: Founders empowered Congree to support accurate news

The Post Office Act of 1790’s intent was to spread reliable information. The same goes for the media of the day.

Comment: Charity scandal shows Providence ignoring its mission

Ordered to forgive $157 million it charged the poor, the hospital system needs better oversight of officials.

Comment: Presidential primary launches state’s election season

With ballots in the mail, here’s what to know and how to prepare for making your choice for U.S. president.

A leasing sign in visible outside of A’cappella Apartment Homes on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Cap on rent can keep more people in their homes

The legislation balances affordability with the need to encourage growth in the stock of housing.

Jaime Benedict, who works as a substitute teacher, waves to drivers on the corner of Mukilteo Speedway and Harbor Pointe Boulevard while holding a sign in support of the $240 million capital bond proposal for Mukilteo School District on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 in Mukilteo, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Bar set unfairly high for passage of school bonds

Requiring 60 percent approval denies too many students the schools and facilities they deserve.

Flowers and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are placed near the Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin's fiercest foe, died Friday in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence, Russia's prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Comment: Navalny’s death only deepens resolve of Putin’s foes

Even in losing elections, Navalny and others have shown that opposition to Putin is effective.

Women’s health care supporters have chance to flip Congress seat

When Roe v. Wade was overturned it simply opened the floodgates to… Continue reading

Comment: Wildfire problem is matter of fuel load, not climate

By limiting the harvest of timber in the state we allowed the forests’ fuel load to grow; and then burn.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Feb. 25

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.