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Needing improvement: After NCLB, then what?

Are New Hampshire's public schools doing a great job only to be incorrectly labeled as struggling because of a flawed federal law? That is the assertion of the state's top education official.

&#';Over 70 percent of schools and 65 percent of districts failed to make (Adequate Yearly Progress) in 2012. This is ample evidence that the accountability system is broken, not that the vast majority of schools in New Hampshire are failing,&#'; Education Commissioner Virginia Barry said this week in commenting on the huge percentage of public schools and districts labeled &#';In Need of Improvement&#'; under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Barry has a point. No Child Left Behind is flawed, and its one-size-fits-all attempt to bring all kids up to speed has resulted in many schools being labeled as underperforming when only a small fraction of their students is struggling to meet the law's goals. Every single school in Nashua, for example, has been labeled In Need of Improvement.

That is one reason why New Hampshire should have pursued a waiver from NCLB long ago. The state missed its chance last fall, when the Obama administration offered waivers to everyone, and, thankfully, Barry now says we will go for one soon.

But the question needs to be asked, as it does of Republicans who oppose Obamacare: Then what?

No Child Left Behind is not the reason that too many New Hampshire students — both among smaller cohorts such as minorities and those from low-income families, and overall — fail to demonstrate proficiency in core subjects. The law is ill-conceived, but it also can be a scapegoat. We are sure that most parents would like to hear what the state is planning to do to better educate their children rather than how unfair that federal law is.

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