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Time To Start At Square One

It’s no secret that the District of Columbia’s school system is a mess. But anyone who thinks that the No Child Left Behind law is going to help the children in DC doesn’t have a clue. I submit two pieces of evidence.

As you may know, under NCLB, students in a school that has been declared "in need of improvement" must be given the option to move to another non-failing school. However, in DC almost half the city schools fall into that category and, as a result, they don’t have nearly enough places for the students in those schools to go. The situation is especially bad in high school where only three of fifteen are not classified as needing improvement. Critics of public education might suggest sending these students to private schools but in DC there are very few of those empty seats available either.

Also under NCLB, students at these "in needs of improvement" schools are eligible to receive free after school tutorial services. The catch-22 here is that the federal government hasn’t provided enough money to cover all the students who need help.

No Child Left Behind tries to treat every school system exactly the same in terms of both the benchmarks used for evaluation and the penalties imposed for missing the targets. The problem is that all districts and schools are not the same. There are many failing urban systems like DC but there are also many schools in this country that are very successful. To force all of them to use the same tools and solutions is completely absurd. In the case of DC, the whole system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up based on the unique needs of the kids. No one-size-fits-all cookie cutter of a law is going to make it happen.


  1. shari

    Thanks for highlighting the specifics in your school district.

    However, even in our so-called wealthy school district where most of the schools are top-notch, those two things you mention will also problems. If one school falls into the ‘in need of improvement’ category (one school needs one more year and it’s because they needed to have one more child take the test), it brings the whole system down. The other schools are full; so it’s no room or you make room, meaning it’ll be crowded. How does that help the kids at the original school?

    As for the tutoring money, I have other thoughts on that…My point, same as yours, NCLB doesn’t provide solutions. It only accelerates any sort of dysfunction already there. If the schools are good, as it is here, it causes havoc.

  2. shari

    Oops…meant to say ‘those two things you mention will also cause problems’.

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