This punishment is a crime

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When punishment is handed down to schools that don’t meet state mandated test scores, schools lose money where it is needed most: to help poor children learn how to read.

No Child Left Behind requires students to take standardized tests. Minnesota’s 2007 results were released last Thurday. More than 160 Minnesota schools didn’t meet the test’s requirements. More than 60 face sanctions.

The federal government set up these requirements. The majority of the money the government gives to schools is Title I money, which goes to help poor students learn reading and math.

When schools don’t meet NCLB standards, the U.S. Department of Education forces them to shave off 20 percent of Title I money to use for other purposes.

“It’s frustrating,” said Jeff Powers, superintendentof the Dassel-Cokato school district. “Title I money is supposed to be used for kids who need help with reading and math. But this money is the main money the feds give us.” He called withholding the money “their teeth.”

The Dassel-Cokato Midde School was listed as not making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, because its special education population didn’t meet proficiency marks in reading and math.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Powers said. Twenty-nine percent of Dassel-Cokato Middle School students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, which is how the government decides who receives Title I services. Powers said the Title I students did “quite well” on the test, but now will see a reduction in services.

Of the 20 percent taken from Title I, 10 percent goes to bus students who want to attend a school in the same district that made AYP. Five percent goes to students who want more help with studying either in school or at pay-by-the-hour homework help shops. The additional five percent is to supplement the previous
two areas if necessary.

“This means you have less money for personnel,” Powers said. “You have fewer teachers for kids, fewer adults who have time for Title I kids. It’s very frustrating for us.”

In addition to losing federal money, the middle school must now come up with an improvement plan and tell parents about the test results. If the school’s students can’t pass the test over the next several years, the school must develop a reorganization plan that may include replacing the principal and teachers.

In an Orwellian twist, only schools that have enough poor students qualify for Title I money. Therefore, if a school doesn’t have enough Title I students, they never see any financial punishment. When a non-Title I school misses AYP, all they get is bad publicity and the possibility of reorganization years down the road.

“If you’re not a Title I school, then they don’t do anything to you,” Powers added.