`No Child' law proves sound

Policy: Both parties seem to agree that the complex act is working.

Education Beat

September 05, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

NO CHILD Left Behind, the Bush administration's major domestic policy initiative, emerged unscathed from both political conventions. Look for four more years.

John Kerry didn't attack No Child, nor did conservatives in the Republican Party who say the act represents federal intrusion into local affairs.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige, one of the few Cabinet members to address the Republicans, said the act "is working," and President Bush, in his acceptance speech, declared, "We are transforming our schools by raising standards and focusing on results."

Many predicted the law, which will be three years old in January, would have collapsed of its own weight by now. Its testing and reporting requirements are wrapped in red tape, and federal officials have been loath to make exceptions or grant waivers, even to states like Maryland that have followed the rules faithfully.

But No Child's purpose -- to close the glaring achievement gaps in American education -- is so fundamental that people of good will are willing to give it a chance. And the U.S. Education Department's public relations campaign on behalf of the act -- lately it has been dispatching representatives to newspaper offices -- seems to be paying off.

The law requires states to set their own standards, establish their own tests in reading and mathematics and define "adequate yearly progress" for groups ranging from African-Americans to special-education students and those eligible for free lunches. That was the first hurdle, still far from cleared.

The next hurdle is getting a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by next year. School systems like Baltimore City's are going to find that task difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

The law has weaknesses. It ought to measure more than reading, math and (soon) science. Subjects under the banner of social studies and the arts are falling by the wayside across the country as schools concentrate on the first and third R.

The law's transfer requirements -- children in failing schools are entitled to move to better public schools -- haven't been met, especially in urban systems. In addition, many of these children aren't getting the after-school tutoring to which they're entitled.

The law's complex provisions for holding failing schools accountable place too much emphasis on punishment and not enough on help. And there's not enough federal money to pay for school improvement where it's needed most -- in districts like Baltimore.

But these qualms aside, No Child Left Behind is sound. In his acceptance speech, Bush spoke again of the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The phrase has been repeated so often that it's a cliche. But cliches are cliches because they're true.

More AP students, tests in city still aren't enough

Baltimore high school students took a record number of Advanced Placement tests this year, 790, a 25 percent increase over last year. And 21 percent more students took Advanced Placement courses -- advanced work that earns college credit.

That's the good news. The bad news is that precious few students -- only 2.4 percent of the high school population -- were engaged this year in AP. And the program's growth occurred almost exclusively at citywide high schools, with the lone exception of Patterson High. Only seven of 15 city high schools had more than three students taking an AP course. About a third of students earned a score of 3 or higher on a scale of 5.

Back-to-school worries: homework, animal wear

"Yep, it's that time again -- back to school.

"One thing that you want to make sure of is that no animals were involved in the making of your new wardrobe. Each year, billions of animals -- like cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alligators, snakes, raccoons, minks, foxes, chinchillas, rabbits, beavers, hamsters (yes, hamsters), and in some Asian countries, even dogs and cats -- are killed for their skin or fur. ... There's no reason for anyone to wear animals in 2004!"

The message is on the Web site of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which also urges children to stay away from zoos and eat no meats, dairy or eggs.

"Does the thought of chowing down on one of your friends give you the creeps?" asks PETA. "How about eating something that may as well have been dunked in the toilet? Well, this is the place for you! This site is for kids who care about animals and don't want to eat them."

On the same site, children can order a free copy of PETA's A Chicken's Life comic book, an 18-page story of a chick's journey from egg to Happy Meal.

Objectionable? Certainly to the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based coalition financed mainly by the restaurant and food industries. That group put out a brochure last week titled, "Your Kids, PETA's Pawns: How the Animal `Rights' Movement Hurts Children."

Don't kids have enough on their minds without having to worry about eating -- and wearing -- their "friends?"

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