NCLB giveth, Spellings taketh away

The Washington Post reported Monday that No Child Left Behind has pressured schools to raise the achievement of students with disabilities. The mother of Stephen Sabia, who has Down syndrome, explained that "he's been exposed to literature and other academics at a level I don't think he would have without [NCLB]." But by Tuesday, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings had announced a "pilot program" that could ease this constructive pressure, at least in the states that choose to participate. Her idea, which has some merit, is to "differentiate" between really bad schools that fail across the board, and mediocre schools that fail one or two of their subgroups-such as special-education students. The Department of Education promises that "differentiated accountability is not about lessening the focus on all students reaching grade level in reading and mathematics." Let's hope so, because without strong oversight, this approach could take us back to the 1990s, when suburban schools got a clean bill of health from state accountability systems even when they failed to educate their poor, minority, or special education students. For the sake of the Stephen Sabias of the world, here's hoping that doesn't happen again. (See this "Fordham Factor" video-cast for more.)

"Law Opens Opportunities for Disabled," by Maria Glod, Washington Post, March 17, 2008

"U.S. Eases ‘No Child' Law as Applied to Some States," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, March 19, 2008