Judging School Performance

By now, everyone has heard something negative about America’s public schools. They are falling behind foreign countries’; they don’t prepare kids for college or future employment; it’s the teachers’ fault; it’s the bureaucrats’ fault, reads the news.

Simply put, many schools in America need help, and now the government is making it official as it could soon label three-fourths of public schools ‘failing’ under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to an article in the  Washington Post.

The Obama administration recently announced that it would revamp former president George W. Bush’s original education initiative.

Arne Duncan, Federal Education Secretary, believes that the school ratings system Bush put in place with the No Child Left Behind Act is in jeopardy itself because the law is no longer workable. Obama and Duncan are pushing to lighten up on the ratings system, labeling fewer schools as ‘failing,’ but cracking down hard on under-achieving schools.

Duncan said that the No Child Left Behind Act “had created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few to help them succeed.”

Duncan and the Federal Education Department estimate that up to 82% of schools could be labeled failing, an increase from last year’s 37%.

The No Child Left Behind Act creates benchmarks for schools to rise steadily nationwide, in hopes of creating adequate education for all students. However, critics say that the law creates a blunt pass/fail approach, and the many schools labeled as “failing” are actually performing well.

Under this act, schools must test students in every grade third through eighth and once in high school on reading and math skills. Those scores, combined with attendance and graduation rates, let the government determine if schools are making “adequate yearly progress” toward becoming proficient. Also, the No Child Left Behind Act set a lofty goal of a 100% proficiency rate by 2014.

Obama is planning to measure schools based on their students’ academic growth. Schools that excel will be rewarded, schools that fall in the middle would be given more flexibility to improve themselves and failing schools at the bottom will face strict federal mandates to adopt changes to improve.

The Obama administration’s efforts to revamp public education have been slowed by budget cuts; however, he hopes that threatening to label three-fourths of schools as “failing” will force lawmakers to take stronger actions to improve education.

Whether Obama’s actions are a threat or serious, they have sparked movement from both parties in Congress to create education legislature. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee and former education secretary, said he would cooperate with Democrats on the education debate, as Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa and chairman on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said he wants to create a bipartisan bill before Easter.