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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

'No Child' law a key policy choice in 2003

One of the key policy challenges facing the 2003 Legislature and the Lingle administration will be sorting out the realities of the new "No Child Left Behind" federal education law.

True, the front lines in dealing with this law are the Department of Education and the Board of Education. But as with so many things, policy and budget decisions have to be run through the administration and the Legislature as well.

Yesterday, Advertiser Education Writer Jennifer Hiller outlined yet another aspect of the new law that is still not fully understood by everyone in the decision-making process: This is the impact of the law on so-called "high poverty" schools.

These are the schools with traditionally high percentages of children who come from poorer homes. The benchmark is eligibility for reduced-cost or free school lunches.

Out of 116 schools in this category, Hiller reported, just 14 last year managed to meet or exceed the standards set for them, something called Adequate Yearly Progress.

If a school doesn't hit those marks, under the new federal law, a series of remedial steps ensue, ranging from state-paid tutoring through transfers, school reorganization to the loss of federal funding.

It has become obvious that there are costs to the state whether it meets the new standards or not. Either way, costs go up and management becomes more difficult.

The immediate policy decision is whether to simply give up and let these schools slip into receivership or whether to confront the issue head-on. It would be far better, both for the students at these schools and for the state's educational sovereignty, to take on the challenge directly.

It won't be easy. Part of the reason these "high poverty" schools struggle is that the student body is transitory. At the same time, these schools tend to have a higher than average turnover in teachers and administrators.

It is imperative that these schools be given the resources they need to meet their special challenges. In addition, ways must be found to encourage or require staff at these schools to stay the course.

Like it or not, this new federal law no longer allows the luxury of rowing in place. We will have to move forward; and it is far better to do it according to our own standards and our own style than to have someone step in and do it for us.