The myth of Barcroft Elementary

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine ran a provocative piece by Jay Mathews about an excellent elementary school in Northern Virginia that has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind for going on three years. What made the article interesting is that it didn't go for NCLB's jugular. Mathews writes:

While following [school principal] Hughey-Guy around the school one recent afternoon and talking to her teachers, I gave them every opportunity to blame the ravages of poverty, to blame the bureaucratic insistence on giving tests in English to children who have not had time to learn the language and, particularly, to blame the law. They declined to check any of those boxes. Whom did they blame? Themselves.

And, as Mathews explains, the next version of NCLB--expected to include an accountability system that looks at student progress over time, rather than just a snapshot, as the current one does--will surely find Barcroft to be A-OK. But experience to date indicates that the Barcrofts of the world are few and far between. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program), only a handful of schools in the state were let off the hook by the new system. Most of the schools "in need of improvement" under NCLB would remain so under NCLB version 2.0 because they aren't making nearly the dramatic progress necessary to catch their kids up to where they need to be. Barcroft deserves to be called an excellent school, but many times failing schools are failing schools, no matter what criteria you use.

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