Making progress?

The Clark County School District has plenty of room for improvement. But the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal law intended to drive and measure academic improvement, does neither.

How absurd is the statute? School district officials announced Thursday that for the third time in four years, the system had met the benchmarks of No Child Left Behind, hitting 92 percent of the law’s academic, attendance and graduation categories.

The district, as a whole, is considered to have made adequate yearly progress toward the totally impossible goal of having every single student’s reading, writing and math skills at grade level by 2013-14. Yet according to the district’s data, 215 campuses are not making adequate yearly progress, while only 152 are.

More than half of the district’s schools are not improving, apparently, but the district itself is?

The reason for this head-scratching discrepancy lies in the law’s requirements. Each school is supposed to show progress in eight different subgroups, including five ethnic classifications, special education, low-income students who qualify for subsidized meals and those still learning English.

Some schools might have only a handful of, say, Asians or students who barely speak English. But to meet the federal standards, every subgroup must improve, no matter the size.

So schools, already tailoring their instruction to make sure students pass the less-than-rigorous standardized tests used to determine whether they’re at grade level, focus more on bringing up the bottom, and less on helping good and gifted students meet their potential.

No Child Left Behind, at its core, is academic egalitarianism. Producing extraordinary graduates — the kind who go on to create and lead companies and improve our standard of living with jobs, products and services — is less important than making sure everyone is average.

To be fair, the Clark County School District does commit some resources to providing motivated students with enriching opportunities. But far too much money and personnel are focused on remediating weak students failed by the policy of social promotion. Holding back kids who can’t master the basics is far more fair and cost-effective than pushing them into material they’re not capable of learning.

Imagine how much better our schools would be if educators were freed from the bureaucratic burdens of No Child Left Behind, spent less time testing and more time teaching.

The federal government needs to get out of education and stay out. Repeal the No Child Left Behind Act and shut down the U.S. Department of Education.

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