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Schools start making strides

My View • No Child Left Behind act can and will do more

A June 1 editorial in the Portland Tribune ('No Child law's flaws hobble it') offered an unbalanced portrait of the nation's most important education law and cited 'obvious flaws.'

So let's take a look at a few of the 'obvious successes' of the No Child Left Behind act. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, notes:

• More reading progress was made by 9-year-olds from 1999 to 2004 than in the previous 28 years combined.

• Math scores for young students have reached record highs across the board.

• History scores improved in the three grade levels tested -fourth, eighth and 12th.

• Achievement gaps in reading and math between African-American and Hispanic 9-year-olds and their white peers have fallen to all-time lows.

No Child Left Behind focuses Title I funds toward schools serving a large number of students from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background.

States agreeing to take part in the law - as Oregon and all 50 states have done - select tests and set standards by which to measure student achievement. Schools then are judged by whether students make adequate yearly progress toward those goals.

Oregon provides a good example of the law's success. Test scores are rising and achievement gaps narrowing.

Last year, 84 percent of Oregon's Title I schools met their goals in adequate yearly progress, compared with only 49 percent of the rest of Oregon's public schools.

That's an amazing statistic when one considers the fact that these schools have the highest concentrations of low-income and minority students. These are the students who have traditionally struggled the most and been left behind most often.

This is good news, made possible by great teachers. No Child Left Behind calls for a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. In 2005-06, 91 percent of Oregon's teachers met this definition.

You mentioned the act's goal of full student proficiency by 2014.

Yes, it will take hard work and a statewide commitment. But isn't achieving grade level in reading and math the very purpose of a public education? I know most parents would think so. As a mom myself, I wonder which students you would leave behind.

One thing is clear: Our focus on targeted resources and timely attention are having a positive impact on student learning, even in the most difficult circumstances. As a nation, we are proving that the achievement gap is not an intractable fact of life, but a problem that can be solved with the right leadership.

To be fair, your editorial gets a few things right. Your proposed adjustments to the law align quite well with the administration's own blueprint for reauthorizing the act, released earlier this year.

We've implemented a pilot program allowing up to 10 states to implement a growth model to measure achievement as part of their accountability systems.

Our reauthorization plan would increase transparency by calling on states to publish their test scores side by side with the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It also would give educators, parents, and community and business leaders new tools to restaff and turn around chronically underperforming schools. Action is needed when 15 percent of our schools produce half of all dropouts.

We've learned a lot about our schools in the last five years, and we will apply that knowledge to improve the law. But we must not give up on its 'bright line' principles, such as annual assessments, extra help for struggling students and an unshakable focus on full proficiency.

This is a goal worthy of Oregon's students and schools. Let's work together to improve No Child Left Behind - because it's working.

Donna Foxley is the secretary of education's regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education.