- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

More than 80 black and Hispanic school superintendents across the nation are battling a group of 14 chief state school officers who want Congress to reduce the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Both Republican and Democratic supporters of the Bush administration’s education reform initiative in Congress say proposals by the school chiefs would “gut” requirements to improve students’ reading and mathematics achievements to the detriment of disadvantaged minority students.

Jack T. O’Connell, California’s superintendent of public instruction, drafted the proposal for a change in the provisions requiring yearly improvement in reading and mathematics proficiency so that all students are proficient according to their grade levels by the 2013-14 school year.

The proposal was made in a letter to Education Secretary Rod Paige after a two-hour White House meeting last week between President Bush and members of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which voiced renewed support of the education law’s objectives to help disadvantaged children most in need of school reforms.

The council has not endorsed the proposal.

The 14 school chiefs called for an alternative “growth model” to replace the pivotal accountability provisions requiring reading and math improvement for low-income minorities, immigrant children and other student subgroups with consistently lower performance in state reading and mathematics assessments than the general student population.

“While flexibility is the watchword of NCLB, states do not have the flexibility to use alternative models to determine which schools are making adequate yearly progress and which schools are not on the right track and should be held accountable,” the state chiefs said.

Schools showing some academic gains under their own standards should be exempt from the more rigorous standards, the state chiefs said.

But the group of minority superintendents objected to the proposal.

“We strongly oppose the effort to roll back the accountability provisions of the law — including, ironically, the provisions that provide extra funding for low-performing schools and extra tutoring for low-performing students,” the leaders said in a letter.

Henry L. Johnson, Mississippi’s state superintendent of education and one of the school officers council’s few black leaders, signed the objecting letter, which stated:

“Rolling back any part of the requirement to know more and do more about the large achievement gaps [between whites and minorities] that have long blighted American education sends the wrong message and simply cannot be an option.”

American public education is “up to the task” and “tremendous challenge” of educating all students, the black and Hispanic school leaders said.

Mr. O’Connell said a “growth-model” approach would not roll back the law’s accountability provisions.

“The purpose of seeking a growth model is, in fact, to enable states to more effectively focus resources on the schools and students most in need of improvement,” the California superintendent told The Washington Times in an e-mail.

The education law’s chief architects from both parties strongly denounced the proposal.

“These changes would gut the No Child Left Behind Act and make it easier for states to go back to hiding the fact that some children are being denied a quality education, even as those states accept billions in increased education funds,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, said the proposed “growth model” would allow many low-performing schools to “never get there” in terms of real improvement.

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