The Education Department lets states
try more flexible ways to meet 'No Child' requirements
FEDERAL education officials are holding out a promise of flexibility to states that have chafed under the "one size fits all" aspects of the No Child Left Behind law. There's no question that individual schools need different strategies. States should be encouraged to innovate. It's important, though, that any new rules not compromise the core principles of a law that has done much to address inequities in educational opportunity.
Applications are being accepted from states interested in participating in a pilot program announced this month by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
...The aim, quite laudably, is to be able to better tailor programs and target resources. So, for example, a consistently low-performing school could be closed while another could get extra teaching help. All students in one school could be eligible for tutoring while another could make extra help available only to those students who are struggling. The pilot also aims to speak to the grievance of local school officials who see schools that are improving but are still labeled as failing.
Ms. Spellings stressed that the flexibility will not be one-sided and that schools will not be permitted to give up on any group of students. That's good, because already there is the unhealthy tendency by some systems to scapegoat certain groups...
It is encouraging that the department plans to employ the same kind of approach used in developing the growth-model pilot, which relies on students' progress from year to year to measure school success. Even skeptics give the department good grades for that effort.
Equally encouraging is that the department will entertain applications only from states that have well-developed data and monitoring systems and are in compliance with the law. That should take red and blue politics out of the equation...
It's clear that one impetus for the pilot program is the recognition that Congress is unlikely to reach agreement on reauthorization of No Child Left Behind before the election of a new president. The House has all but given up. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is said to be working on a proposal, but most observers give him little chance of success. We hope that they are wrong and that Congress will summon the will to refine and strengthen this landmark law.
Until Congress acts, Ms. Spellings is right to conclude that the help needed by students and teachers can't wait.