Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009 | 2:06 a.m.
A new study has confirmed what many critics of the No Child Left Behind federal education law have said all along, that many school districts judged as failures would be judged as successes if only they were located in a different state.
This is because the Bush administration did not want to broach the divisive issue of national academic standards. So states were allowed to continue setting their own standards, meaning that mediocre school districts could continue to be mediocre if the state set low achievement standards — yet be rated as successes under the federal law.
Just as unfairly, school districts that had surpassed mediocre but were within states with high standards could end up being labeled as failures.
This obvious problem is receiving attention from President Barack Obama’s administration, which is leaning toward encouraging states to cooperate on a plan to establish national academic standards for core subjects.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press every state needs standards that make students college- and career-ready and that are benchmarked against international standards. “A high school diploma needs to mean something, no matter where it is from,” he said.
The study, released last week by the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found fault with the way school districts are evaluated. “It misleads people into thinking that we have a semblance of a national accountability system for public schools, and we actually don’t,” said Chester Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Institute.
In a column last week in The Washington Post, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said national standards can be achieved without abridging the right of state and local educators to influence curricula. “Education is a local issue, but there is a body of knowledge about what children should know and be able to do that should guide decisions about curriculum and testing,” she wrote.
With cooperation among educators, we believe achieving more consistency from state to state is a realistic and worthy goal.