The Spokesman-Review



Editorial: Redefine ‘No Child’ for success in real world

The federal No Child Left Behind Act has been up for reauthorization since 2007, but because Congress hasn’t been able to agree on the fate of the law it has been granted one-year renewals.

The best course of action would be to retain the law’s principles of accountability while dumping the lack of realism that is reflected in its name. Under the law, every school district will need to demonstrate that its schools have met the target of 100 percent proficiency in math and science by 2014. Schools that fall short will be deemed “failing.”

What does this mean in the real world?

It means that a school that improved the pass rate for its students from, say, 60 percent to 90 percent over the 11-year life of the law has failed. It means that a school with a 100 percent pass rate in every category of students except for one has failed. Students are divided into categories based on such traits as ethnicity, household income and special needs. Each category must record a perfect pass rate.

The goal is laudable – no child left behind – but it sets up districts and schools for failure, even if they’ve shown dramatic improvement. Plus, this unrealistic goal encourages states to water down their tests and has schools looking for creative reasons to excuse particular students from assessments.

The good news is that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Monday announced that the nation can no longer wait for Congress to rewrite the law, so he’s promoting waivers so that states can leave behind the law’s absurd measuring sticks. He still wants to hold states accountable for the federal money they receive but in a way that is more realistic.

Duncan has yet to release the guidelines that states agree to before obtaining waivers, but the administration has focused on important reforms with its Race to the Top program. Among them: measuring student outcomes, allowing for innovation, raising standards, focusing on teacher training and recruitment in hard-to-fill areas such as math and science and rewarding teachers based, in part, on student outcomes.

It’s far better for school systems to pursue those goals than to waste money trying to achieve the unachievable under No Child Left Behind’s current guidelines.

Congress has been studying changes to this unrealistic law for more than three years, even as the date of required perfection draws nearer. Without changes, most schools will “fail,” even those that have shown dramatic improvement. Some that “succeed” will have done so by watering down standards.

Until Congress acts, this intervention from the U.S. Department of Education merits support.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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