A gaudy sign reading "No Child Left Behind," the education slogan of the Bush administration, welcomes visitors to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.
At more than a thousand pages, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted at the beginning of 2002 with bipartisan flourish. The act combined a big increase in spending to please Democrats with conservative buzzwords to please Republicans, words such as "standards," "tests" and "accountability."
If no child is to be left behind, why are so many students flunking and being left behind in failing schools? Why are schools nationwide in an uproar, with a cacophony of complaints coming from parents, teachers and students?
The answer is plain to see. The act's mandated tests reveal the painful truth that the nation's schools are failing to provide a quality education, even though taxpayers are paying a per-child rate that rivals expensive private schools.
Because the penalties for not complying with act requirements are severe, states and school districts have devised ingenious methods to avoid sanctions. The Texas State Board of Education reduced the number of correct answers students must provide to the test's 36 questions from 24 to 20 out of 36.
Michigan officials lowered from 75 to 46 the percentage of students who must pass statewide high school English tests in order to certify a school as making adequate progress. Colorado restructured its grading system, lumping "partially proficient" with "proficient" students.
Not only are students judged by test scores, so are the schools. The act requires schools to score higher on standardized tests each year and it requires every racial and demographic group to show improvement.
If any group fails to report higher scores for two consecutive years, a school is labeled "needing improvement." A school that does not improve its scores after being so labeled can have its principal and teachers replaced or even be closed by the state.
Parents, teachers and taxpayers are shocked to learn that the first year's results show an extraordinarily high percentage of schools to be labeled as needing improvement. At least 60 percent of North Carolina schools and 75 percent of Louisiana schools are expected to be so labeled.
One sanction imposed on failing schools is to give their students the option of transferring to another school. Los Angeles and Chicago officials are meeting this challenge by approving very few transfers, citing overcrowding concerns. New York City schools approved 8,000 transfer requests, but one-third of the students have been moved from one "failing" school to another.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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