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Is No Child Left Behind's Birthday Worth Celebrating? (Mike Petrilli)

For almost five years now, I’ve considered myself a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act. And not just the casual flag-waver variety. Much of that time I spent inside the Bush Administration, trying to make the law work, explaining its vision to hundreds of audiences, even wearing an NCLB pin on my lapel. I was a True Believer.

In a way, I still am. After all, in the 21st Century, saying you "support" NCLB is shorthand for affirming a set of ideas, values, and hopes for the country as much as an expression about a particular statute. I’m not just referring to the proposition that "no child should be left behind"–the notion that we have a moral responsibility to provide a decent education for everyone. Ninety-nine percent of the education establishment can get behind that "purpose" of the law and still resist meaningful reform.

I mean a set of powerful–and controversial–ideas that provide the subtext for all the big NCLB battles. First, that virtually all children (even those living in poverty) have the capacity to achieve a reasonable level of proficiency in reading and math by the time they turn 18–and that it’s the education system’s job to make sure they do. Second, that everyone benefits from having someone looking over his shoulder and that schools and school systems need external pressure-i.e., accountability-in order to improve; good intentions aren’t enough. Third, that good education is synonymous with good teaching. This requires good teachers, which every child deserves, but which today’s education bureaucracies, licensure rules, ed schools, and union contracts too often impede. Fourth, that giving parents choices within the education system has all kinds of positive benefits, from creating healthy competitive pressures to allowing educators to customize their programs instead of trying to be all things to

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Quality Counts, But Does This Index? (Owen B. Robinson)

Education Week has released its annual “Quality Counts” survey.  This year, it introduces the brand-new “Chance for Success Index,” which seeks to rank states by the likelihood that the children of the state will succeed in life.  Wisconsin came in 8th overall, but before you get all excited, let’s take a closer look. 

The index grades states on thirteen factors.  This group of selected measurements is as interesting for what is included as for what is not.  Let’s go through them…

Family Income (percent of children from families with incomes at least 200% of poverty level).

Family income is a decent indicator of future success.  Families with a good income tend to be more stable and provide a better learning environment for kids.  I thought that the benchmark used in the index (200% of poverty level) was a bit arbitrary, but it’s hard to come up with a better one. 

What’s missing is the cost of living.  The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2006 was $20,000 per year in the 48 contiguous states.  The problem with using a federal number for measuring between states is that the cost of living varies so much.  $20,000 would go a long way in Mississippi, but would make a family in San Francisco destitute.  Furthermore, the cost of living can vary drastically within the same state.  It costs much more to live in New York City or Chicago than it does to live in rural New York or Illinois. 

Wisconsin ranked 12th in this metric, but it doesn’t take into account how much of that family income actually makes it into the family’s pockets after taxes or how far those dollars stretch.  For example, Wisconsin has a high tax burden, high fuel costs,

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Disenfranchised: The Buzz in Education Reform (Nancy Salvato)

The word that most aptly describes the momentum behind education reform going into 2007 is disenfranchised.  This can be applied to students in grades P all the way to 16.  It can also be applied to adults who want to go back to school, who never completed school, or who are learning English as a second language.  It can be used to describe those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  This word can be mixed and matched with pretty much any type of person that is deserving of more opportunity; and who isn’t?  To be sure, the word "disenfranchised" will inevitably be used to call for more education funding, to fight for more equitable education and to appeal for universal education.  "Disenfranchised" is the sort of descriptor that can be mixed and matched by any education reformer for any type of reform because it appeals to the conscience; it begs the decent person to look out for those amongst us who might need a little action on their behalf.  “It is the right thing to do.”  But be forewarned: those whose heartstrings are being pushed and pulled in every direction must try and be discerning about the various offerings and work through the maze of rhetoric so that the disenfranchised are truly helped by our efforts. Like it or not, sometimes the solutions can become part of the problem.

The effort behind universal preschool stems from the notion that some children are better prepared for Kindergarten than others.  For a multitude of reasons, underprivileged children are not accumulating as much practice playing with the English language and they are not exposed to the types of concrete experiences which lay the foundation for learning abstract mathematical concepts.  In my own observations with “disenfranchised” children,

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