Federal

Harvard Analysis Is Critical Of ‘No Child’ Law

By Lisa Goldstein — February 18, 2004 3 min read
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Federal accountability requirements have derailed state education reforms and assessment strategies, according to an analysis released last week by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

The four-part report contends that the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act have no common meaning across state lines, and that the law’s sanctions fall especially hard on minority and integrated schools, requiring much less student progress from affluent suburban schools.

“Inspiring Vision, Disappointing Results: Four Studies on Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act,” is available from The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. For a summary of findings, read the press release. (Report requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The report, “Inspiring Vision, Disappointing Results: Four Studies on Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act,” examines the law’s impact on the 2002-03 school year, the first year of implementation. Parts of the report examine the law’s provisions on school choice and supplemental education services.

Those provisions, which are potentially available to parents whose children attend schools labeled “in need of improvement” under the law, have had little impact on schools and have not been seriously evaluated, the reports maintain.

“The reality for too many public educators is confusion and frustration as No Child Left Behind is leaving too many children ... and teachers ... behind,” Gary Orfield, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project and a professor in the Harvard’s graduate school of education, said in a statement accompanying the Feb. 9 report.

“The time has come for local, state, and federal educators and officials to work together to sort out the pluses and minuses and adopt administrative and legislative remedies to save the good objectives of the programs and remove the arbitrary and unworkable provisions,” Mr. Orfield added.

Ronald J. Tomalis, an adviser to Secretary of Education Rod Paige, took issue with the report.

“It’s what you would expect someone standing on the outside with an agenda to say,” he said. “In my mind, they really missed the mark on this report.”

Dual Systems

The Civil Rights Project’s study looked closely at how the No Child Left Behind law was playing out in six states and 11 school districts. The researchers conducted interviews, visited districts, and analyzed state and local statistics and government reports.

The report’s federal section notes that only 11 states had accountability plans that were fully approved by the Education Department as of June 2003, despite the department’s claim that all states were in compliance with the law. It also notes that even states run by Republican lawmakers have not necessarily been eager to carry out the provisions championed by the Bush administration through the law, especially when they have conflicted with local priorities.

In the state-focused section of the report, the authors conclude the federal requirements have complicated state efforts to build their own coherent accountability systems. Having dual state and federal accountability systems has meant that schools are receiving conflicting signals about their performance, the report says.

For example, 289 schools in Arizona are identified under the No Child Left Behind Act as low-performing and needing improvement, but the very same schools met state performance targets, earning either a “performing” or “highly performing label,” according to the Harvard report.

The report’s section on school choice shows that even though thousands of students nationwide were eligible to transfer schools in 2002-03, fewer than 3 percent of eligible students asked to do so. Also, no district examined in the study was able to approve all transfers.

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