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K-12 Plan Draws Concern on Race Data

K-12 Plan Draws Concern on Race DataPresident Bush’s new K-12 education reform law places more attention than ever before on differences between racial and ethnic groups, an education and affirmative action expert says. Yet the Education Department’s first steps toward implementation “already raises some concerns,” according to Christopher Edley.
Appearing before a House of Representatives’ panel examining early implementation of the law, Edley praised many of the law’s goals but called for more aggressive implementation. 
In particular, he praised a provision of the law requiring states and schools to report academic achievement among major racial and ethnic groups. The collection of such information “will be at the core of whether our schools are judged to be successful,” he said.
“No longer can schools with skyrocketing dropout rates or racially identifiable pockets of academic stagnation and failure earn a passing grade,” said Edley, a Harvard Law School professor, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and former special counsel to President Bill Clinton during that        administration’s review of affirmative action.
But the Education Department may not be doing enough to ensure compliance with the law. For example, states have long been required to provide some data disaggregated by race, though few have complied fully with these limited mandates, he said. To address this issue, he said, the department must help states build their data systems and hold them to the precise timelines of the act.
The Education Department also has backed away from an earlier plan to collect school and district data through its Civil Rights Compliance Report, a quality tool to gather such information. “Surely there is not some knee-jerk hostility toward things labeled ‘civil rights’?” he said.
“Without improvement … parents and community members will be hamstrung by a simple lack of information,” he added.
Provisions to require annual assessments of children in grades 3 through 8 also may prove difficult to implement effectively. So far, the department appears ready to allow states to use a “patchwork” of state and local assessments rather than more ambitious tests.
The law, called the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, also includes provisions to monitor average yearly progress of schools. However, the process to determine progress must include a look at dropout rates as well as test scores, he said. Test scores alone may not be an adequate barometer of local progress if a district has a large number of dropouts whose skill levels are not reflected in the assessments.
Edley urged the House Education and the Workforce Committee to work for increased funding for education reform, including the need to train and retain teachers. “These and other resource inadequacies could cripple meaningful implementation and kill the promise of NCLB.”
Nonetheless, Edley said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that the law can improve education.
Panel members also heard from Education Undersecretary Eugene Hickok, who said the Bush administration is moving ahead on implementation through public forums and contact with state and local school leaders.
Based on these discussions, Hickok said, the department plans to “regulate only when it is absolutely necessary.” Providing guidance rather than strict regulations can do more to promote state and local flexibility, he added. 

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