Thursday, March 30, 2006

States Have More Schools Falling Behind
States Have More Schools Falling Behind
By Paul Basken
Bloomberg News

More than a quarter of U.S. schools are failing under terms of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, according to preliminary state-by-state statistics reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

At least 24,470 U.S. public schools, or 27 percent of the national total, did not meet the federal requirement for "adequate yearly progress" in 2004-2005. The percentage of failing schools rose by one point from the previous school year. Under the 2002 law, schools that do not make sufficient academic progress face penalties including the eventual replacement of their administrators and teachers.

The results raise doubts about whether the law is working and its results are fairly calculated, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based research group.

"Most people thought that at this point in the law, we'd be seeing these numbers go way, way up" as standards toughen, said Petrilli, a former Education Department official who helped implement the law in 2002.

Bush achieved rare bipartisan support to get the No Child Left Behind law passed as part of his first-term agenda. Since then, the law has become a subject of dispute, with Democrats accusing Republicans of providing insufficient money for it.

At the same time, there is evidence that states may be manipulating the numbers, Petrilli said. He cited Oklahoma, where the percentage of failing schools dropped to 3 percent from 25 percent a year earlier.

Under the law's "adequate yearly progress" measurements, states are required to show improvement in student test scores in reading and math. If they do not do so for two consecutive years, individual schools must let students transfer to another school. After a third year, schools must pay for tutoring for students from low-income families. Some states have complained that the federal government has not provided enough funding to cover costs such as tutoring.

The 2004-2005 rankings are just "one thing out of many things" that need to be considered when judging schools, said Chad Colby, a spokesman for the Education Department. A set of federal tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, gives policymakers another indication of scholastic achievement, Colby said.

The true test of the No Child Left Behind law will come in 2013-2014, when schools are required to bring all students to proficiency in math and reading, he said.

The Bush administration has expressed satisfaction with the rate of improvement under No Child Left Behind. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, in testimony last month before the Senate's education committee, cited statistics such as 9-year-olds making more progress in reading over the past five years than in the previous 28 years combined.

The law, however, allows states to adjust both their tests and the formulas by which they calculate "adequate yearly progress," leaving parents and policymakers unable to make definite conclusions about such numbers, analysts including Petrilli said.

"These stats are meaningless in the absence of a common test and common standards," said Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor who was an assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

Among individual states, Florida placed last with 72 percent of its schools failing to show enough improvement, while Oklahoma led, according to the Education Department statistics provided to Bloomberg News. Rhode Island ranked second behind Oklahoma with 5 percent failing, with Iowa at 6 percent, Montana at 7 percent and New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin at 8 percent.

At the other end, Hawaii ranked second-worst with 66 percent of its schools failing to improve. Washington, D.C., came in third-worst with 60 percent, followed by Nevada at 56 percent and New Mexico at 53 percent.

Different states were required to submit the statistics to the Education Department by March 8. Federal officials plan to verify them and incorporate them into an annual report to Congress later this year, Colby said.