Inside the Law
Paige: U.S. Schools Like Apartheid
As the federal government tries to improve student success under No Child Left Behind, the nation's top educator complains that many minority children are served so poorly it can be compared to apartheid conditions.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige has warned of an educational crisis of disadvantaged students who are forgotten in school and then later lost in the real world. Most students who are behind are poor, and "the education circumstances for these students are not unlike a system of apartheid," Paige said during a speech quoted by the Associated Press.
Paige, the first black to serve as education secretary, says a weak education system will damage the entire nation, not just the individuals who fall through the cracks. And while many states and school officials have called the federal mandate under-funded, Paige criticizes their resistance, calling the complainers "significant, powerful forces entrenched in the old ways, mired in self interest."
Flex Funds for Florida's Struggling Students
Male black and Hispanic eighth graders in Putnam County School District will be among lucky students who will get needed extra attention under a new federal funding plan.
Florida was recently approved to receive federal funds under the new State Flexibility Authority Program under NCLB. State-Flex allows up to seven states nationwide to consolidate certain federal formula funds to use appropriately for state-level priorities in exchange for increased accountability for student academic progress. More than $30 million in federal funds will be used at state and local levels for each of the five years of the program.
As part of the State-Flex plan, Florida has local performance agreements with eight school districts, including Putnam County, where 44 percent of the students live below the state poverty level.
Florida's State-Flex goals say that every child who is not proficient in reading and math will have individual proficiency targets that should lead to proficiency within four years. Another goal is for every parent will know where their children are in terms of proficiency and how far the student must advance every year to achieve grade-level proficiency.
"We are particularly targeting eighth-grade black and Hispanic males; it's an area that needed some attention," says Phyllis Criswell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The plan includes addressing teacher training such as how they should teach minority students and knowing strategies that work better for those students.
The plan also involves buying computers and software. The five deficient areas where children will be assessed include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. From there, administrators can determine what strategies are needed to "bring them up to where they need to be," Criswell says.
States Struggle to Define Top-Notch Teachers
For almost two years now, administrators have known that under NCLB, each teacher must be "highly qualified" by 2006. But defining what that means is proving tough, and the federal government won't set national standards.
The definition will vary from state to state, but the end result is expected to help all students become proficient by 2013, according to NCLB.
This fall experts from the U.S. Department of Education visited seven states (with another 21 state visits scheduled) to help create definitions and offer innovative practices. States were most focused on the "high objective uniform state standard of evaluation." These standards must provide information about the "teachers' attainment of core content knowledge in the academic subjects" they teach.
But state officials are confused, says Kate Walsh, executive director of the National Council on Teacher Quality. "The law will, in fact, be difficult to be in compliance with if states refuse to revisit their own certification requirements. Change is difficult."
Teachers must have a college degree, or B.A.; must be fully state certified, and must show subject competency via a test.