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Federal education official defends school reform law

A high-ranking official from the U.S. Department of Education told Maryland educators and business leaders yesterday that despite recent complaints surrounding a new federal law requiring sweeping school reform, the often-criticized No Child Left Behind legislation is the right thing to do, and it is here to stay.

Eugene W. Hickok, acting deputy secretary of education, told the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education's annual meeting that the law emphasizes those things that make a difference in classrooms.

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"The conversations about education are a bit different," he said. "It's not bus routes, lunch menus and band schedules, but student and school performance and student achievement."

Hickok also took on the growing criticism of the law, which requires school leaders to ensure the success of every child in every school regardless of race, income-level, language barriers or significant learning problems. Educators across the nation have complained that the mandates are unrealistic, too costly or, in some cases, impossible to meet. Many states have found creative ways to get around portions of the law, and some states have refused federal funding tied to compliance with the law to avoid its implementation.

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"If you think it's too much to do," he said of the law's critics, "the next time an elementary school kid crosses your path, or the next time you visit an elementary school, look at them and say, 'Which ones shall we decide can't get there?'"

Hickok's remarks come just weeks after Maryland released results of state test scores in reading, writing, math and geometry showing that - under the parameters of the new law - every school district in the state could be declared "in need of improvement" in two years.

After the meeting, Hickok said such a dismal showing isn't surprising.

"It's something we expected," he said. "It's really part of the reason the law was written."

By uncovering, for example, the fact that - among Maryland's special education students - only about a quarter of third-graders and a third of fifth-graders can pass the state's reading test, more can be done now to focus on special education students' reading.

No discussion is under way about revisiting the law, Hickok said.

The feeling among legislators responsible for the law, Hickok said, is, "Give it more time."


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