Thursday, September 07, 2006

Taking your money to where your mouth is 

Clint Bolick raises a good point: Does the Bush Administration have the courage to enforce the punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind when school districts flout its requirements?

In LAUSD, there are over 300,000 children in schools the state has declared failing under NCLB's requirements for adequate yearly progress. Under the law, such children must be provided opportunities to transfer to better-performing schools within the district. To date, fewer than two out of every 1,000 eligible children have transferred--much lower even than the paltry 1% transfer figure nationwide. In neighboring Compton, whose schools are a disaster, the number of families transferring their children to better schools is a whopping zero.

The question is whether Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings--whose administration has made NCLB the centerpiece of its education agenda--will do anything about it. She has the power to withhold federal funds from districts that fail to comply with NCLB, and has threatened to do just that. Rhetoric, so far, has exceeded action.

The schools say parents don't want to transfer, but Bolick says polling data shows the parents don't know that they can transfer. The school district says they don't have enough seats for the students to transfer to. How to solve this? Lamar Alexander, John Ensign, Buck McKeon and Sam Johnson suggest sending the kids to private schools. But of course those would be vouchers, and we can't have that can we?

The Bush Administration has been quite lenient so far with NCLB, allowing school districts that are failing "to offer supplemental services to children before offering transfers. This reverses the order Congress stipulated," says Bolick, but at some point the administration will have to show it means what it says about holding failing schools accountable.

NCLB is a flawed law in many respects. Still, it may represent the last true hope, at the national level, to ensure that our education system truly leaves no child behind. The establishment is chafing furiously under the tethers of accountability. If these slip away, it is unlikely that any politician will have the courage to buckle them back down again.