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Inside The Law

Inside the Law


New Dropout Formula on the Horizon

In a seemingly concerted effort both to demystify the web of incomparable data from state to state on dropout rates and to address a major flaw in the No Child Left Behind law, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings last month announced plans for a single federal formula to calculate graduation and dropout figures to be used by all states.

The requirement, experts say, would be one of the most sweeping regulatory actions ever taken by an education secretary, because it would affect official statistics issued by all 50 states and each of the nation's 14,000 public high schools.

"In the coming weeks, I will take administrative steps to ensure that all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time - and how many drop out," Spellings said at a dropout prevention summit in Washington last month.

The specific formula has not yet been outlined by the DOE, but Spellings noted at the event that all 50 governors in the National Governors Association signed a compact in 2005 agreeing to eventually calculate their graduation rates based on a common method. Under that formula, graduate rates would be calculated by dividing the number of students who receive a traditional high school diploma by the number of first-time ninth-graders who entered the school four years earlier.

The formula would strengthen the goals of NCLB, which requires states and high schools to report graduation rates to the federal government. Most states have heretofore adopted their own formulas, which often understate dropout rates.

Spellings said the new data will be made public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background and income level are performing.

An accurate and consistent graduation rate calculation could also impact how well schools stack up from a legal standpoint, as the announcement of the proposal was made shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against the School District of Palm Beach County (Fla.) demanding the district improve its graduation rate each year by a certain percentage.

DOE officials say the proposed requirement will be published in the Federal Register, opening a period of public comment, before issuing the final regulation later in the year.


Advancing Women and Minorities

The recipients of the 2008 Dr.Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award - Randall H. Collins, Terry B. Grier, Frances F. Jones and Helen C. Sobehart - were recently honored at the American Association of School Administrators' (AASA) national conference.

The award, now in its fifth year, recognizes AASA members' individual efforts related to the advocacy, support and advancement of women and minorities in education.

"This year's winners are truly deserving of this award for their extraordinary leadership in promoting and expanding diversity and multiculturalism among school system leaders," AASA executive director Paul Houston said at the conference.

Collins, profiled in the March 2007 issue of DA, is the superintendent of Waterford (Conn.) Public Schools and has supported and mentored women and minorities into the superintendency, including Waterford's first black cabinet level administrator, a recent addition.

Is Your School on Fire or Smoldering?

The Bush Administration is rolling out an initiative to address one of the longstanding complaints against the No Child Left Behind law: that it treats schools the same regardless of whether they're failing to meet annual benchmarks by a little or a lot.

Secretary Margaret Spellings recently announced a pilot program allowing states to submit proposals for assigning different consequences to schools based on the degree to which they fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress. The move to distinguish between "on-fire schools" and "schools with a smolder," Spellings says, is being referred to as "differentiated accountability" by DOE officials.

Under the new program states will be able to tailor consequences toward specific problem areas and enjoy more efficient use of targeted resources.

Georgia's state superintendent of schools, Kathy Cox, says the adjustments "will allow for more strategic use of data and interventions to specifi cally help students that are falling behind."

But there is a catch: Only 10 states will be able to participate in the new plan at first. Eligible states must have already approved assessment systems to measure student achievement, and Spellings says preference will be given to states that have been pioneers for reform and accountability, such as Maryland, North Dakota and Louisiana.

Applicants are being encouraged to think creatively about how to choose which schools will receive intensive help as well as what types of intervention to provide. DOE officials stress that by evaluating participants annually, the department "will help identify proven methods for others to follow."

In a statement, Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, called differentiated accountability "one of the most critical issues in the reauthorization of NCLB." Other experts agree that the program moves NCLB in the right direction.


Bible Classes Approved

A new opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. says that the state's public school students are legally safe to learn about the Bible's impact on politics, art and literature as long as the lessons aren't delivered as sermons. The support comes amid a pending legislative bill that would authorize the state to create a nonsectarian Bible elective curriculum.

At least four districts in the state currently offer such a course that counts as a social studies or literature elective.

The statewide curriculum would have to be approved by the state board of education if the bill passes.