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Study says localities curb ed reform

Think tank asserts schools resisting 'No Child' law

WASHINGTON -- The federal No Child Left Behind law has produced only limited educational improvement because local school officials have too much power to resist change, a nationwide series of studies has concluded.

The 12 studies, produced by researchers in eight states for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, credit the five-year-old law with creating some school improvement, but doubted that it can solve some of the most intractable problems.

The measure's "ambitions, and federal officials' promises to strictly enforce the law, continue to collide head on with the primary institutions that control American schools," said one of the study's authors, Paul Manna, an assistant professor of government at the College of William and Mary.

The collection of reports is the latest in a series, produced in preparation for the expected renewal of the No Child law next year by Congress, warning lawmakers to lower their expectations for the federal government's ability to improve the nation's system of locally run school districts.

Other recent studies by private groups such as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Northwest Evaluation Association, as well as public entities such as the government's National Center for Education Statistics, have found test scores in poorer districts failing to catch up with those of better-funded schools.

The 12 studies presented yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, based in Washington, D.C., cite a series of problems both from a national perspective and from case studies in California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, and New Jersey. A common theme is the ability of schools to block the changes envisioned by the law.

The law "would have more impact on its stated goals if federal authority were used to force states and local communities to do things they are not doing now," Alex Medler, vice president for research and analysis at the Denver-based Colorado Children's Campaign, wrote in the study for his state.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to meet minimum testing standards for two consecutive years must let students transfer to a different school in the district, then pay for tutoring in the third year. Schools eventually could face the removal of their leaders.

Several of the studies mentioned the low rate of parents accepting the transfers or tutoring, in part because many schools don't tally their test results until the subsequent school year.

Public schools do not have incentives to force them to do better, wrote Jay Greene, who heads the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

"They are essentially guaranteed a stream of revenue regardless of how they treat current or potential students," Greene said.

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