Why can't California get the same deal as Utah regarding the No Child Left Behind Act? As the new U.S. secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings is showing welcome flexibility -- but troubling inconsistency -- when it comes to enforcing the arcane and sometimes nonsensical regulations covering schools.
Utah wants permission to use its own accountability system rather than the federal one, and its House of Representatives recently passed a bill giving state education rules priority. Spellings has said she's willing to visit Utah and listen, and that's promising talk. Utah does a superior job of tracking achievement, by measuring year-to-year improvement of each student. That's the gold standard for leaving no child behind, not the federal law's convoluted statistical juggling that requires a certain number of students from all sorts of tiny demographic subgroups to meet an imaginary bar called "proficiency."
California gets no such friendly ear when it comes to measuring achievement among the state's school districts. Spellings' office insists that the state add about 300 school districts to the "failing" list because they avoided censure only via a California escape clause: Any district that can improve scores among low-income students by a certain amount is safe, no matter how its other students fared. Individual schools have no such flexibility; this is extended to districts only.