- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yesterday proposed new regulations that aim to improve the No Child Left Behind law without the help of Congress, but top lawmakers complained the changes aren’t enough and blamed one other and President Bush for the law’s problems.

Congress has been unable so far to approve legislation to overhaul the 2002 law, so administration officials have been taking steps to change the law themselves, hoping to placate its critics.

That effort expanded yesterday as Mrs. Spellings proposed regulations that would, among other things, require states to use one formula to calculate graduation rates and ensure that struggling schools inform parents of their rights under the law.

“Secretary Spellings’ announced package of regulations and pilot programs will address the dropout crisis in America, strengthen accountability, improve our lowest-performing schools, and ensure that more students get access to high-quality tutoring,” Mr. Bush said after Mrs. Spellings announced the proposed changes in Detroit.

Top Democrats said that while some of the changes are good, they are just pieces of the overall solution and they don’t address what they see as the law’s biggest problem — lack of funding.

“If the administration can find billions of dollars for Iraq, surely President Bush can devote a fraction of those resources to America’s schoolchildren,” said Senate education panel chairman Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who is trying to craft a measure to overhaul NCLB this year.

“What the Bush administration is proposing today is a series of piecemeal changes to a law that really needs a comprehensive overhaul,” said House education committee chairman George Miller, California Democrat. Mr. Miller tried to introduce a bipartisan NCLB-overhaul bill last year, but it crumbled under attacks from the administration and teacher unions, among others.

Mr. Miller complained that Mr. Bush had the chance to work with Congress on a bipartisan solution last year “and he rejected it.”

Meanwhile, Republicans blamed Democrats for the lack of congressional action on NCLB.

“Unfortunately, more than a year into their congressional majority, Democrats have all but ignored the pressing need to revitalize this law that impacts our nation’s schools,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on Mr. Miller’s education panel.

The much-debated NCLB law requires states to test and track students and holds schools accountable if they don’t make adequate yearly progress. Critics, including teacher unions, have argued that NCLB treats struggling schools too harshly, that it needs to be fundamentally retooled, and that it requires far more funding in order for it to work.

Yesterday’s proposed regulations would establish a formula for measuring graduation rates and require all states to adopt it by 2013.

The proposed rules also would require that each state publish test results each year from the Nation’s Report Card, a national assessment given to a sampling of students in each state.

Administration officials also have complained that chronically struggling schools have done a poor job of informing parents of their rights under NCLB.

The public may comment on the administration’s proposed regulations until the end of June.

PROPOSED CHANGES

The following are highlights of the Bush administration’s proposed regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Assessment flexibility: Academic achievement measurements would be clarified to allow multiple types of questions and multiple tests within a subject area.

Student growth measurements: Further details would be provided on a policy announced in December to allow states to assess individual student achievement and use that as a factor to determine whether a school is making adequate progress.

More public information: States and districts would be required to publish their results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math each year. States already publish the results of their own tests under the federal education law, but the proposed change would allow the public to compare the rigors of the tests.

Enforcement of requirements: Schools would have more difficulty excluding certain subgroups of children, such as those with disabilities, from the testing and tracking systems.

Graduation rate data: The “graduation rate” would be defined as the number of students who graduate in a given year within the standard number of years with a regular high-school diploma, divided by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier. All states would be required to adopt this formula by 2013, set a graduation-rate goal and explain how they would measure school and district progress in this area.

School restructuring: When a chronically failing school enters the restructuring phase, its plan must be rigorous and comprehensive. Merely replacing the principal will not be adequate.

Parental notification: Parents would have to be given timely and clear information about their right to transfer their child to a better-performing public school or to access free tutoring services. Districts would be allowed to use some of their federal funds to carry out the notification.

Source: Education Department

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