Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bush education policy to miss goals: Harvard study

Bush education policy to miss goals: Harvard study
By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education policy is failing to close racial achievement gaps and will miss its goals by 2014 according to recent trends, a Harvard study said on Wednesday.

It said the policy has had no significant impact on improving reading and math achievement since it was introduced in 2001, contradicting White House claims and potentially adding to concerns over America's academic competitiveness.

Bush's No Child Left Behind Act was meant to introduce national standards to an education system where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school, a proportion that slides to 50 percent for blacks and Hispanics.

The study released by Harvard University's Civil Rights Project said national average of achievement by U.S. students has been flat in reading since 2001 and the growth rate in math has remained the same as before the policy was introduced.

The study follows results last month from the first nationwide science test administered in five years which showed achievement among U.S. high school seniors falling over the past decade -- a time when students in many other developed countries are outscoring U.S. students in science testing.

The Harvard report said only 24 to 34 percent of U.S. students will meet a reading proficiency target by 2014 and 29 to 64 percent will hit a math target under current trends.

Under No Child Left Behind, children in every racial and demographic group in every school must improve their scores on standardized tests in math and English each year. Failure to achieve annual progress can lead to sanctions against schools.

Children in poorly performing schools can switch schools if space is available. In extreme cases, schools can be closed.

But a surge in the number of schools identified as "needing improvement," including many considered top performers in their state, has stirred opposition to the law nationwide -- from a legal challenge in Connecticut to a rebellion by state legislators in staunchly Republican Utah.

U.S. officials counter the reforms are working.

"Across the country test scores in reading and math in the early grades are rising," Deputy Secretary for the Department of Education, Raymond Simon, testified in Congress on Tuesday.

"The 'achievement gap' is finally beginning to close."

That differs from Harvard's study, which predicts less than 25 percent of poor and black students will hit the 2014 target in reading proficiency and less than 50 percent in math, with the overall racial achievement gap barely closing by 2014.

The averages were based on the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the most accurate test for measuring achievement in core subjects.