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School Districts Find Loopholes in No Child Left Behind Law

School districts are getting around certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind law by setting the bar measuring student progress low in the beginning. Special correspondent for education John Merrow begins a series of reports.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the first of three reports on the impacts of the federal No child Left Behind law. Tonight, special correspondent for education John Merrow examines how some schools are dealing with, and trying to avoid, requirements of the law.

    JOHN MERROW, Special Correspondent for Education: In June, 2,700 high school athletes gathered in North Carolina for a championship meet. The schools they represent are also engaged in a race, a race to raise achievement under No Child Left Behind. The president's signature education law is now up for reauthorization. Margaret Spellings is secretary of education.

    MARGARET SPELLINGS, U.S. Secretary of Education: All the signs that we had, all the data that we had said that we weren't serving our kids well enough, simple as that. And for 40 years, we've put the money out of this department and hoped for the best, and it wasn't working for kids.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    No Child Left Behind demands that states raise test scores or their schools could face firings and eventually be shut down. But as you're about to see, states have discovered creative ways to win, to make their schools seem better than they actually are. Because of the complexity of the techniques, we'll use a few track and field events to show you how to do it.

    In track and field, the rules are the rules. But under No Child Left Behind, the rules change all the time. Helping make sense of it are two education experts, Kevin Carey of Education Sector, a nonpartisan think-tank, and Chester Finn, former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration and longtime advocate for higher academic standards.

    We start with the 100-meter hurdles. In this event, all the hurdles are the same height, equally difficult to clear. No Child Left Behind establishes hurdles for schools to clear. Every year, schools must raise the percentage of students passing state tests.

  • KEVIN CAREY, Education Sector:

    The goal is to have all students proficient by 2014. And so you start off with that, a certain standard, say 30 percent, and then you increase the standard in steps.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Steady, stair-step progress toward 100 percent proficiency, that's how the law was supposed to work. But nine states found a loophole, a legal way to make it seem like they're winning the hurdles race. They've done it by setting the early hurdles very close to the ground.

  • KEVIN CAREY:

    They've essentially back-loaded all of the improvement into the last few years of the law. They are essentially delaying the point in time in which they have to make the most improvement.

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