Florida Legislators Trying to Have Their Cake...
> 3/27/2006 9:11:41 AM

The Sunday edition of the New York Times ran two important and related education stories. In the first writer Sam Dillon sifts through a report on the efficacy of the No Child Left Behind Act four years down the road. The one, over-arching, change that can be seen in schools across the country is a curriculum shift away from variety and toward greater focus on math and reading, the main subjects tested by the NCLB act. This really shouldn't be anything new or surprising, as most recognized that the "stronger accountability for results" language that headlined the act in 2002 meant that schools that were unable to meet basic results on standardized tests would be hurt.

In the four years since the act was signed into law, there has been a great deal of research. The Times reports:

The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math.

While this may seem distressing on its face, the bottom line continues to be that it is not unreasonable for us to expect a baseline of achievement from the public school system. Maybe not yet a well oiled system, NCLB establishes some accountability and has begun to raise scores in schools across the country.

The second story from the NYT illustrates just one way that the NCLB act may create some tension at the state level. NCLB gave states and local communities increased flexibility on how they spent federal money, in exchange for increased accountability for failures. As the NYT reports, via the AP, a new bill that has passed the House in Florida will ask high schoolers to choose a major much in the same manner that college students do. The bill also includes a provision that would put any low performing school under direct control of Gov. Jeb Bush.

In the first piece, we see schools nationwide struggling to deal with a shift in focus of their curriculums. According to its own press release Florida has made some nice gains since 2001 in grade level proficiencies, but still have a ways to go. This is especially true when one considers the gains that have been made in the context of the shift of curriculums. In fours years of what many might call "teaching to the test," most grades sit right around 60 or 65 percent of grade level proficiency. Now Florida legislators are trying to add a new level of bureaucracy to the system. Requiring high schoolers to chose a major seems anathema to the goals of NCLB, especially considering how much work there is still to be done in achieving those original goals.

A rider on the bill would also put any school that under-performs under the direct control of Gov. Bush, a motion that worries some, and seems again to go against the spirit of NCLB, which sought to empower local communities.

Both of these stories point to some inadequacies in the public educations sphere as it is right now. NCLB has set a standard, and like other goals in front of us, we will only achieve through perseverance and hard work.

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