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The Daily Tar Heel

U.S., State Officials Discuss Education Standards, Reform

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spelling, director of Bush's Domestic Policy Council, attempted to ease anxieties about the program as they fielded questions from about 20 former, current and newly elected governors gathered at UNC's Paul J. Rizzo Conference Center.

"This is a tough law," Spelling acknowledged. "It's going to be hard. There will be a pinch, but it's what's right for the kids."

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is grounded in four basic principles: accountability, flexibility and local control, parental choice and research-based instruction.

The act requires schools to meet new federal standards -- most of which are more stringent than those implemented by states -- and demands that schools targeted for improvement demonstrate certain levels of annual yearly progress.

The targets of No Child Left Behind differ from other federally implemented education standards in that they shift focus from averages to individual students' performances, Paige said.

If any one group at a school -- such as Hispanics or low-income students -- is found to be low-performing, the entire school will be tagged as in need of improvement.

The number of schools pegged as inadequate will increase dramatically when averages cease to be used as indicators. In North Carolina, the number of on-par schools is expected to drop from about three-fourths to roughly one-third.

Many governors said they worry that the public will not differentiate between schools that are in need of improvement and those that are failing.

But Paige said it is governors' responsibilities to draw vehemently a distinction between schools needing improvement and those that are failing -- and not the federal government's job to lower standards.

"Don't label these schools as failing schools," he cautioned. "Call them in need of improvement. We don't know they're failing. But we will encourage high standards and being aggressive in identifying schools that need improvement."

The act, which allows students at low- performing schools to switch to a different private or public school, has threatened the state's ability to guarantee reduced class sizes. Gov. Mike Easley said he has requested that North Carolina have additional flexibility to control class size.

The governor acknowledged that implementing the new standards will be costly, adding to the state's fiscal burden during a substantial revenue shortfall.

"It does have a price tag to it," Easley said, floating the idea of an education lottery as a possible source of funding.

He added that no matter where the money comes from, he is confident that the state will continue to invest in education and that it will be in full compliance by the deadline. States must present their initial plans for complying with the act by Jan. 31. The Department of Education then will review and revise the plans, which must be implemented by May.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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