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For a while, you knew that every year, your student would take a test in reading and mathematics, and the school would pay attention to how well your child did. It was called “accountability” or maybe your state called it “adequate yearly progress.” Either way, your child’s performance mattered to how you and the community viewed the success of your school. For a while, you also had a chance to get help if your school wasn’t doing well enough by its students. Sometimes it was free tutoring, sometimes it was a chance to go to a different school. The point was that, if you weren’t happy with the work the school was doing to improve, you had some options. These moments -- when the accountability results were made public or tutoring was offered -- weren’t always happy times. It is never easy to get tough news and make changes, but it’s more important to help students than ignore the results. Often, the schools that needed to make changes were deemed to be “failing.” That might be an unfortunate term – but, whatever you call it, not enough students were learning about reading and math, and not enough students were graduating. And, when too many students cannot read, cannot compute, and do not graduate – you have to pay attention. It is important for you to realize that times are changing. The New York Times reported on those changes in its lead story today, headlined “’No Child’ Law Whittled Down by White House”. Some of these changes make sense – like using more information to decide how well schools are doing, and grading schools from A to F. But, some changes do not. Many states are only going to focus on the lowest-performing schools. Those schools are the worst 15 percent of schools in your state. In other words, if you lined up 100 schools from best to worst -- only schools ranked 85 through 100 would get attention and extra support. That’s probably okay for those schools from 1 to 50, but what does that mean if your child is in school number 75? 80? It is also the case that, with the changes taking place in more than half the states (so far), many schools will no longer have to worry about kids who need more support learning critical reading and math skills – kids whose parents are poor, or who don’t speak English, or who have a disability. Instead of being considered from a unique point of view, they’ll be part of one large group. President Bush and the vast majority of Senators and Representatives weren’t kidding when they passed legislation in 2002 called No Child Left Behind. No child really means no child; it means your child. Lots of people feel really good about changes that have now been made in 26 states, and all sorts of improvements are being promised. But you should know that free tutoring, choices of different schools, and an intense focus on the performance of every school and every student is just not the case anymore. Is that what you really want? Not just for your own kids but for America?
Director, Education Reform George W. Bush Institute Dallas, Texas
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