To the Editor:
An article in your March 9, 2005, edition, “Utah Legislators Delay Action on NCLB Bill” included a quote from Utah state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington that leaves readers with a mistaken impression.
The Education Trust recently issued a statement criticizing Utah’s attempts to opt out of provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Our statement was in no way issued in concert with or at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education, as Ms. Harrington claims. The Education Trust takes no money from and is not affiliated in any way with the federal government or with the Bush administration. Indeed, we have criticized the Department of Education’s recent acquiescence to Utah’s noncompliance with the highly-qualified-teacher provisions of the law.
Ms. Harrington’s assertions are untrue and serve to distract attention from substantive issues. Our criticisms of Utah’s actions were based on our independent analysis of the data—an analysis that shows Utah’s public schools are not working well for all students. Consider the state’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card”:
• Latino 4th graders in Utah demonstrate lower reading skills than Latinos in all but two other states and the District of Columbia.
• White 4th graders in Utah trail white students in most other states in reading. Even though both groups in Utah are learning less than their peers nationally, Utah still has one of the largest gaps between Latino and white students in the nation on the NAEP: In reading, Latino 4th graders are roughly three years behind their white peers.
• In 8th grade math, there is a similar story. The overall performance of whites and Latinos is below the national average for each group, and the Latino-white gap in 8th grade math is the second largest among all the states. On the 8th grade math exam, Latinos in Utah demonstrate skills that are roughly three years’ worth of learning behind white students in the state.
Instead of confronting these achievement gaps, Utah wants to jettison No Child Left Behind, a law which asks states to take responsibility for improving the academic achievement of all groups of students. Utah claims that its own accountability system is superior to the accountability system required under the federal law. Yet the state doesn’t even have a fully operational accountability system on which a comparison can be based. What is clear is that the state’s proposal would not hold schools accountable for the academic achievement of all groups of students. In addition, Ms. Harrington’s characterizations of the planned Utah Performance Assessment System for Students, or U-PASS, make clear that schools would have no obligation to assure that students who are behind catch up.
The Education Trust seeks to ensure that the interests of low-income students and students of color are front and center when education policies are debated. We have at times been highly critical of the U.S. Department of Education in its implementation and oversight of the No Child Left Behind law, and we will continue to serve as a watchdog on federal implementation efforts. But states bear significant responsibility for living up to the letter and the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act, and it is important that they be held accountable, too.
The Education Trust