Only President Bush would endorse fighting the failure of public schools with sanctions that beget more failure. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Bush’s pet project, has been doing just that for several years and is becoming more of a menace to schools than the savior it was intended to be. Some states have begun to simply let their schools cheat in order to feign meeting NCLB standards. NCLB needs to be drastically overhauled if it is to produce actual progress in the nation’s schools.

President Bush originally created NCLB after his campaign pledge in 2000 to rejuvenate K-12 schools. The plan was to make all students proficient in math and reading by 2014 and to test this by implementing more standardized testing. Regardless of the act’s sound intentions, several problems lie at the heart of the law, including obvious loopholes that reward cheaters and harsh punishments for failing schools.

Recent examples of abuse of loopholes in NCLB include Alabama’s astronomical improvement in just one year between 2005 and 2006. In 2005, the state ranked 22nd in the nation in meeting educational standards, but it miraculously jumped to fifth place in 2006. Had Alabama really found a secret elixir? No. The state lowered its standards from the previous year on the state-administered written test, allowing more students to be considered proficient.

Another way states cheat to boost scores is to exclude from the school’s average the scores of certain minority groups if those schools don’t have a minimum of 40 minority students of that group. If that arbitrary quota seems to make zero sense, then you’re keeping up just fine. As a result of this baseless fudging, about 90 percent of Alabama’s schools with Latino students were able to avoid reporting scores for those students.

States and schools that do not take advantage of such NCLB loopholes or are deemed to be failing are much worse off than they were prior to NCLB standards. Today, schools that fail to meet “yearly adequate progress” – such as a growth in the number of students scoring at the proficient level – face severe reductions in funding and layoffs. Some schools are thus forced to shut down. Such crippling sanctions defy all logic: How are schools supposed to improve if they are continuously penalized financially?

While NCLB poses many problems, there are many possible solutions. Under no circumstances should failing schools be punished financially: This only worsens the problem. Instead, the government should provide more funding and training in these districts. Schools should not be held to standards determined by test scores. If the government is interested in improving schools, it must monitor improvements on the ground, not according to printouts and number-crunching.

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