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22nd November
2002

First Published in The New York Sun, November 22, 2002
By Andrew Wolf

If a zebra is a horse designed by committee, then the No Child Left Behind Act is a well-intentioned attempt at reform that is fast becoming a monster born of Congressional compromise. This new law, passed with so much promise, has become a nightmare of regulation and red tape. And there’s plenty of blame to go around. Congress needs to address the problems with the new law in the next session, and our state and city need to take steps to make the most of the current law.We don’t have time to waste. Children are being left behind.

We have heard a lot lately about how few parents in the “failing” schools have exercised their right to request a transfer into a better schools. School 483, and did a shoddy job of it. We have some bad schools, but not that many. Ironically, many of the worst didn’t even make the list.
Over the years many of us have been quick to beat up on the city’s educational establishment for the many failings of our schools. The state gets precious little attention, but deserves at least an equal share of the blame. The state bureaucracy is overseen by a Board of Regents appointed, de facto, by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. That is because the State Constitution provides for the election of Rechoice is among the few areas of educational debate where liberals and conservatives agree (where they diverge is whether public monies should pay for non-public schools). Most parents, however, aren’t looking for choices that will remove their children from neighborhood schools.

According to Education Week, there is no stampede anywhere from the so-called failing schools into bet-We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on such dubious programs right here in New York City. In a to date successful effort to skirt the law and save their lucrative contracts, the purveyors of these programs have cleverly recast their programs as “balanced literacy” by adding a tiny dose of phonics instruction. Our cash-strapped city pays as much as $1,000 a day to bring a single staff developer into a single school to train teachers in discredited programs that Congress intended to be abandoned.

To prevent such chicanery, Congress must specifically define what types of instruction are to be funded. If they mean phonics, they should say so.

There must be a recognition that the education system, public and private, is being driven by outside forces such as the University-Institutional Complex here in New York City. I’m sure Chancellor Klein in particular would agree that if we want to break up monopolies, it is perfectly appropriate for the federal government to intervene. If different schools were encouraged to follow different models and we could evaluate the different results, maybe then the concept of choice would not seem so empty.

Several weeks ago on this page I pointed out that many schools on the failing list were actually among the better performers on standardized tests, while other lower scoring schools were omitted. For this you can thank the New York State Education Department. The new federal law left it to the states to determine which of its schools are failing. North Carolina only found three such schools, Texas identified two, and Virginia none. New York State has named gents by a joint vote of both houses of the State Legislature, which in New York means that Assembly Democrats will always prevail. One party rule is never healthy, and it shows in the poor decision-making coming from Albany.

I don’t believe that Mr. Klein wants to fail. He is a bright fellow and he must understand that the rest of his professional life will be measured by his performance in this job. He can fade into obscurity like most former chancellors, who left folks here shaking their heads and muttering, “but he seemed so promising.” Or he can be remembered as the man who saved the education system many had dismissed as permanently broken.

The stakes are even higher for Mayor Bloomberg. He has three short years to show some real forward movement, or he risks losing a reelection bid and his place in history. He is operating in the worst kind of fiscal environment. Whether he cuts services or raises taxes or both, he is not likely to win friends.There will be fallout from having to administer pain. The question is whether that fallout will be counterbalanced by the kind of achievements that other mayors entering office in difficult times, such as La Guardia, Koch, and Giuliani, were able to use to win the respect that almost always results in reelection.

We need to fix the No Child Left Behind Act in Washington, but in the interim we need to make it work now for kids in New York City. The monster needs to be tamed.

ter schools.The reason: Location.As in real estate sales (which is by far the number one method by which parents exercise school choice), location rules. Parents want to send their children to neighborhood schools.When little Johnny gets sick or injured in class, parents want to be able to quickly respond. Parental involvement with a child’s educational is often inversely proportional to the distance between school and home.
While most parents don’t understand the differences between educational philosophies, they do know that most public (and, for that matter, private) schools follow the same so-called child centered educational theories. Why move your child across town to get the same product?

One of the bright spots of the No Child Left Behind Act is its insistence that only programs supported by scientific study receive federal funds.The idea behind this was that questionable strategies such as whole language reading programs would be abandoned.

© 2002 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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