High school dropouts left behind?
No Child Left Behind has its share of flaws, but some education observers would say none are more glaring than its failure to hold high schools accountable for pathetic graduation rates. That loophole is so big it's undercutting high school reform efforts, suggests a report released this morning by The Education Trust. The Washington D.C. think tank takes No Child to task for allowing states to set anemic goals for improving graduation rates. "Because current graduation rates are so low, we need targets that provoke action on behalf of students, not ones that condone the status quo," said Ed Trust's Daria Hall in a press release.
This isn't a new criticism, but it's not one that's gotten wide coverage. And given that the 2002 federal law is up for re-authorization this year, it's worth re-airing. No Child, of course, mandates that schools find ways to get more and more students to reach minimal bars in reading and math or face an escalating series of consequences. And by more and more students, it means not just students overall, but a long list of subgroups, including poor kids, minority kids and disabled kids.
No Child requires improvements in grad rates, too. But as Ed Trust points out, it allows states to set the improvement targets. The result: Most states have set goals so low (a majority deem any progress, even a fraction of one percent, their goal) that they seem meaningless in terms of prodding schools to improve. Florida, for example, has set a grad-rate target of 85 percent, and an improvement-rate target of 1 percent. At that pace, it'll be 15 to 25 years before Florida meets its goal, depending on whose stats you think are valid. Even worse, critics say, No Child does not require that improvements in grad rates apply to subgroups, which EdTrust's Hall says amounts to "turning a blind eye" to achievement gaps between white and minority students.
-Ron Matus, state education reporter