Thursday, November 20, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Out of the NCLB frying pan

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

Last year former Deputy Secretary of Education Gene Hickok and I wrote a study for the Heritage Foundation critical of No Child Left Behind's requirement that 100 percent of students pass their required state test by 2014 or lose funds.

Our concern is that states, like Arizona, have dummied down their tests to meet the requirement instead of improving student learning.

Some have suggested, however, that NCLB's "Safe Harbor" provision will prevent the impending 2014 train wreck. Safe Harbor gives schools a pass on meeting the required Adequate Yearly Progress standards as long as schools reduce the number of children scoring "below proficient" by 10 percent each year.

To see how plausible this might be, I looked at the last six years of fourth grade reading and math data from Florida's 67 school districts. Even though the NAEP shows that Florida has been making solid progress on both subjects, Florida's schools failed to make Safe Harbor 71 percent of the time.

Last year, U.S. Senators John Cornyn (TX) and Jim DeMint (SC) proposed an amendment to allow states to develop their own academic improvement strategy. The bill, the A Plus Act, would allow each state to come up with an agreement with the federal government for its own system for judging public school performance.

Now would be a good time to see all Arizona congressional representatives consider the concept seriously.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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