Differentiated Day II: The Norm Coleman Relief Act!

Sam Dillon’s NYT story on yesterday’s differentiated consequences pilot is a classic. First, Dillon leads with this:

The Bush administration, acknowledging that the federal No Child Left Behind law is diagnosing too many public schools as failing, said Tuesday that it would relax the law’s provisions for some states, allowing them to distinguish schools with a few problems from those that need major surgery.

Dillon may think the law is identifying too many schools as failing (and if history is a guide he does) but this pilot specifically states that:

The state maintains its current practice for determining AYP and identifying schools as in need of improvement.

In other words, the game here is differentiating consequences not changing the accountability rules about what schools get identified. What’s more, the pilot will prioritize states that have identified a lot of schools in the first place…What the Administration was actually tacitly acknowledging was that No Child Left Behind seems very unlikely to be reauthorized this year. But, that acknowledgement has really pissed off a few folks on the Hill…

Later in the story Leafy Mike Petrilli says he hates this because it will be the Suburban Schools Relief Act. That could happen, and is one reason groups like the AFT and Council for Great City Schools don’t like it. They don’t want to see urban schools thrown under the bus while suburbanites get to minimize the achievement gaps in their communities. But, do I really care what Leafy Mike thinks about No Child Left Behind? Hasn’t he disowned the law already? Maybe he just disavowed it? Anyway, whether or not this turns into a suburban dodge will depend on the quality of the peer review process and whether they only let really serious plans through.

That’s actually going to be interesting because while the states have been grumbling that they don’t have flexibility, they haven’t really shown much of a willingness to seriously intervene in low-performing schools. Now their bluff has been called and we’ll get to see the kind and caliber of ideas that are put forward. It is worth noting that outside of the tutoring and public school choice provisions, the law does specifically say now that interventions should be tailored to the nature of the problem. That’s flexibility though in an alarmist touch Dillon writes that:

The rising number of failing schools is overwhelming states’ capacities to turn them around, and states have complained that the law imposes the same set of sanctions, which can escalate to a school’s closing, on the nation’s worst schools as well as those doing a reasonable job despite some problems.

Perhaps if you really wanted to close down a school that was overall pretty good but had one problem you could try to use the law as justification, but the law simply does not require this and is pretty specific that the interventions have to be tied to the causes of the problem. So you’d be on pretty shaky ground trying to close a school doing a “reasonable job” because one subgroup of students wasn’t making “adequate yearly progress.” In any event, despite the fact that states are not currently erring on the side of intervening in too many schools, the prospect apparently keeps Dillon up nights.

Finally, the politics of the announcement have some folks ticked off, too. Politically, what the announcement itself really amounted to was the Norm Coleman Relief Act. Minnesota likely can’t participate in this pilot and has fought NCLB. But their incumbent Republican Senator is in a tight race, which is the only compelling reason to announce this new policy there of all places. It allows him to say, “what do you mean there is no flexibility in No Child Left Behind, why the Secretary herself was just here to announce…” If Kennedy’s mad and Coleman’s glad, is it really bipartisan?

2 Replies to “Differentiated Day II: The Norm Coleman Relief Act!”

  1. Andy,
    For someone who criticizes ed journos for poor reporting, this is a pretty shoddy post. Why make the announcement in MN? The Gov. has been a vocal supporter of NCLB to his detriment in the state. Norm Coleman, you know, actually is a supporter of the law and has put forward constructive proposals for change. On the other hand, Al Franken, Coleman’s “progressive” Democrat opponent, has essentially called for scrapping the law or making significant changes (I know you read Hoff’s blog). So is it really a stretch to make the announcement in MN considering Pawlenty is a steadfast supporter and Coleman backs the core of NCLB? This was a perfect opportunity for you to push your “progressive” party in the right direction by noting these key points. Instead, you play the party line. Not exactly a hard-hitting analysis of the story. But it’s “all about the kids,” right?


  2. The story’s not really that far off. Aren’t you just mad he doesn’t suck up to you like other reporters?

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