"It's a sordid business, this divvying us up by race," quoth Chief Justice John Roberts last year. The Department of Education is finally implementing a 1997 OMB mandate that students should be allowed to identify themselves as multiracial. That move could muddy NCLB's race-based classifications, however, and make it harder to identify achievement gaps. Sixty Democratic members of Congress--including the head of the Black Caucus and the ranking member of the House education committee--expressed their concerns in a strongly worded letter: "Disaggregated racial and ethnic data, as you well know, is one of the cornerstones of the No Child Left Behind Act, and we urge the department to refrain from any changes that could undermine this principle in any way." The danger is real, but if NCLB moves to a growth-based accountability system and tracks the gains of individual students over time, instead of group averages at the building level, racial classifications will no longer matter--we'll just worry about whether kids who are far behind are making significant progress and catching up. And then we'll be able to get out of this "sordid business" for good.

"Worries Surface in Racial-Identity Comments," by Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, October 18, 2006 (subscription required)

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