Regulatory Catch-22

Thirty elementary schools in Maryland are failures according to the No Child Left Behind law because they complied with another set of federal regulations. It seems that thousands of students with disabilities or limited English skills were read the questions on standardized tests as required by rule 1 and that assistance invalidated their test scores according to rule 2.

Conflicting regulations is just one of the bear traps in this train wreck of a law. Over the past few weeks I’ve attended three different sessions on the school report required by NCLB and it is not pretty – or comprehensible. Before talking to us the presenters attended training seminars and put in a lot of time studying the regulations, and it still took a while to explain to an audience of principals and other experienced administrators. Another problem with the reports is that a school’s status this year depends on changes from past years, but the relevant information from previous years isn’t included on the report.

How on earth is anyone going to explain this stuff to parents? One of the key points to NCLB is supposed to be that parents, having the information they need about their child’s school, will be able to make a choice as to where their kids will get the best education. But in order to make a rational decision, the families must understand the information being presented in this report. The way it stands now only the parents with advanced statistical training will be able to decipher it.