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Intestinal Fortitude

A bunch of smart people gathered at a downtown Washington hotel last week to begin, as the moderator put it, "reading the entrails" of the new education law enacted in January.

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The conference papers are available from the Fordham Foundation. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

"We actually don't know quite what is going to happen in the implementation of this law," said Chester E. Finn Jr., the moderator. He's the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, host of the half-day conference, and served as an assistant secretary of education under President Reagan.

"To recall just I think the most obvious example, states are free to set their academic- proficiency bars wherever they like, but whether they set them high or low ... they all have the exact same 12 years to get all their children up over those bars," Mr. Finn said.

Fordham commissioned seven papers for the event on issues related to the standards, testing, and accountability provisions of the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"A lot is riding on the quality and utility of those tests," said Matthew Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, a group formed by governors and business leaders that promotes standards-based initiatives.

Michael Cohen, a former assistant secretary who oversaw the previous ESEA's implementation during the last 15 months of the Clinton administration, offered some words of caution on state compliance.

"Nobody ever believed that the Department of Education would seriously enforce the Title I requirements," he said. "I discovered that when I started to do it. I heard stories from inside and outside the department about when [Harold] Howe [II] was commissioner of education, he tried to take money away from Chicago. Mayor Daley called LBJ. Doc Howe was out of office the next day."

He said the agency needs to blend an offer of flexibility and assistance with a clear message that there are consequences for noncompliance.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 21, Issue 23, Page 20

Published in Print: February 20, 2002, as Federal File

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