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NCLB Caught in a Gap

The new Democratic-majority Congress will have a lot ponder when it takes up reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act next year. Drawing on a range of different student-performance measures, a number of recent studies have concluded that little progress has been made toward the law’s central goal of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students by 2014. “Poor and minority students are doing very poorly, and in most states are not making significant gains—and this in spite of NCLB and all the other reforms of the past 15 years,” commented Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which recently completed a review of student performance across the states. Among the chief reasons cited for the persistence of the gap is uneven teacher quality, and several of the reports recommend creating compensation programs to ensure that poor and minority schools can attract and retain strong instructors. “If I’m in a bad school and make serious progress, I need a reward,” said Michael Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service. “If you perform on Wall Street, you get a bonus.” Other suggestions include increased funding for early education and tutoring efforts, both of which have shown promise in isolated school success stories around the country.

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