If you can't beat ‘em, go around ‘em? That seems to be the latest Bush Administration strategy when it comes to No Child Left Behind. Having spent the better part of four years trying to persuade Congress to reauthorize the act to no avail, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has taken the matter into her own hands. How? Through new NCLB regulations announced Tuesday, with which she achieved many, though not all, of Dubya's legislative priorities. Among the final rules, some are technical (codifying Spellings's growth model pilot program, for instance), and others are eminently reasonable (ensuring that parents receive timely notice of their options under the law). But at least one is regrettable: within a few years, high schools will have to achieve a state-specified graduation rate for all of their subgroups, such as poor, minority, and disabled youngsters, or else be labeled "in need of improvement" (i.e., failing). While transparency around graduation rates is a worthwhile project (and we applaud Spelling's insistence that states measure grad rates in a uniform way), we worry about likely unintended consequences stemming from this new policy. Now that states know that students with learning disabilities or those with limited English proficiency must graduate in high numbers, won't that encourage some jurisdictions to lower graduation standards themselves? We've been through this before in the context of "proficiency." Republicans used to worry about these sorts of perverse incentives; now it's looking like Team Obama will have to do so.
"Rules will require schools to track dropout rates," by Libby Quaid, Associated Press, October 28, 2008