Plan gives federal No Child law more flexibility

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • March 19, 2008 - 12:29 AM

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was in Minnesota on Tuesday to announce a proposed pilot project for the federal No Child Left Behind law that would give 10 states more flexibility in addressing struggling schools' specific needs.

Critics and supporters alike say No Child Left Behind paints with too broad a brush the schools that struggle to show academic improvement.

However, Minnesota doesn't yet have enough of those schools to participate in the pilot project, prompting some to question why Spellings made the announcement here and whether it was an effort to help Sen. Norm Coleman in his reelection campaign.

Spellings appeared at the state Department of Revenue and the State Capitol alongside Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Coleman.

"It certainly smells that no Democrats were invited to this event, when we already know that this administration has politicized Cabinet agencies," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It looks like a stunt to help Norm Coleman's campaign."

The Department of Education said no members from the Minnesota congressional delegation were invited, but their offices were notified Monday morning. Coleman heard about the event last Friday because he's sponsoring legislation related to No Child Left Behind. The Department of Education said this was part of a 17 state tour for Spellings.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said Spellings chose Minnesota because of the state's history of education reform and accountability, saying "it was a policy announcement initiated by the U.S. Department of Education and the secretary had a positive, bipartisan meeting with legislators, including a number of Democrat committee chairs, during her trip to our state today."

The proposal

Spellings' plan would give up to 10 states more flexibility in holding schools accountable for student performance. Under No Child Left Behind, schools must meet testing, attendance and graduation targets for the entire school and for groups of students, depending on things like ethnicity or special education status.

Schools that miss targets -- even for just one group -- are classified as not making adequate progress. Schools face escalating consequences for missing targets in consecutive years.

Spellings said that lumps schools with just a group or two struggling in with those that are "on fire" with chronically poor performance. The pilot would allow states to tailor help for specific needs.

For instance, if a state's schools need improvement primarily because of special education students' test scores, a state could focus resources on that and not give special services to students who do not need them.

States should submit proposals by early May. State Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said Minnesota would probably apply if the pilot project is expanded.

Kevin Diaz and Conrad Wilson contributed to this report.

James Walsh • 651-298-1541

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