Here's a riddle. You're the Secretary of Education. A deeply unpopular law is starting to label even good schools as failures. What do you do? Think positive! "Pretty much every organization needs improvement," Margaret Spellings told the New York Times this week. That's certainly true as far as it goes; even Gadfly tries to muscle-up his wings from time to time. But it's unlikely to placate state and local education officials whose schools are being branded as "failures" by the press. "The law is diagnosing schools that just have the sniffles with having pneumonia," explains South Carolina's superintendent. One such school is Stephen Knolls, a specialized campus in Montgomery County, Maryland serving "medically fragile children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Rett syndrome." Yet it failed to make the grade under NCLB because its attendance rate wasn't high enough. (That's because more than a few of its students were in the hospital.) Maybe our next Secretary of Education will admit that, for an accountability system to work, it's got to do a better job differentiating between and among good and bad schools.

"Under 'No Child' Law, Even Solid Schools Falter," by Sam Dillon, The New York Times, October 13, 2008

"School Attendance Law 'Gone Awry,'" by Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post, October 14, 2008

"Common Sense Left Behind," Editorial, Washington Post, October 16, 2008

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