Give states a roadmap so no child will be lost
By Gary M. Ratner
The Baltimore Sun
January 16, 2003
When the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 became law a year ago
with the important goal of raising all children to academic proficiency
in challenging subjects, the public may have believed that finally
there was a complete roadmap for dramatically improving public schooling.
But recent experience reveals the opposite.
The chasm between the law's goal and current student achievement
is huge. Among the some 8 million African-American and 7 million
Hispanic students nationwide, about 90 percent are below "proficient,"
or grade level, in reading and math. About 8 million poor students
(50 percent) lack even "basic" or rudimentary skills at
their respective grade levels.
The act essentially mandates that states receiving federal Title
I funds test students annually and publish results, offer limited
transfers and tutoring, train teachers to meet state certification
requirements, certify all teachers as "highly qualified"
by the end of the 2005-2006 school year and annually improve learning
so all students are academically proficient by 2014.
But it does not advise states how to change their educational systems
to profoundly improve learning for the majority of public school
students, especially the poor and racial minorities. As Judith Rizzo,
former deputy chancellor for New York City's schools, recently stated:
"If you don't know how to get it to the classroom level, [the
law] is a waste of money."
Governors such as Jennifer Granholm of Michigan have exactly that
concern. She doesn't know what Michigan should do to improve achievement,
and the law does not help her. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico
is worried that his state's rural schools will not be able to meet
the federal standards.
Ignorant of what to do differently and fearful of having to disclose
publicly that a large percentage of their schools are failing to
educate kids to grade level, states have already begun to seriously
weaken their criteria for what constitutes academic proficiency.
Louisiana will now deem students "proficient" under the
law even when their achievement is actually only at the state's
"basic" level. Colorado will label its students "proficient"
even when they only achieve at "partially proficient."
And Connecticut will call its students "proficient" under
the law even when they fail to meet the state's own reading and
math performance goals. Experts expect other states will follow
Experience reveals that the law's purpose is already being turned
The law was intended to induce states to figure out what changes
would be required to raise virtually all students to academic proficiency
and to institute those changes. Instead, the states, not knowing
how to comply, have begun to nullify the act by deeming its goal
of academic proficiency to be met by whatever low level of learning
they provide with business as usual.
The states, by their actions and words, are, in effect, pleading
with the federal government to give them a blueprint for how they
can dramatically enhance schooling. To enable the states to institute
the necessary fundamental changes and avoid their self-protective
evisceration of the law's purpose, President Bush and Congress need
to honor their plea.
Experienced educators know what the roadmap needs to include:
For existing teachers, intensive training in subject matter; individualized
mentoring in teaching skills; regular, scheduled preparation time
with colleagues; and refocusing traditional professional development
workshops onto meeting
participants' immediate teaching needs.
For new teachers, supplanting widespread 10- to 12-week education
college student teaching programs with at
least 30-week, academically integrated and closely supervised
field placements so all candidates are competent to teach upon graduation.
For principals and superintendents, intensive case study and experiential
postgraduate programs in how to lead their teachers, parents and
communities to vastly raise their expectations and students' learning;
financial and mentoring incentives to recruit and retain only academically
skilled teachers and administrators, especially for poor urban and
rural areas; and replacing with capable personnel all teachers and
administrators unable or unwilling, after training, to perform effectively.
Federal comprehensive literacy and other public or private programs,
including adult education and parenting skills, should be offered
to all needy families so they can motivate and assist their children
to learn, and should include surrogate mentors and tutors where
Only the federal government has the authority to lead states to
adopt this roadmap and the capacity to fund its implementation nationwide.
The government's publication of such a roadmap is essential to prevent
leaving millions of children behind.
Gary Ratner is executive director of Citizens for Effective
Schools Inc., a national nonprofit organization based in Bethesda.